This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 22nd and 23rd.
The Sun sets at 6:02 PM; night falls at 7:36. Dawn begins at 5:43 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:18.
The planetary parade has a new member. Mercury peeks over the western horizon during civil twilight. In Libra, it appears about 84% illuminated and blazes with minus 0.2 magnitude. This is offset by its very low altitude – only 1º high. The observer should seek out an unobstructed horizon to find this elusive planet, which sets at 6:42 PM.
Jupiter shares Libra with Mercury, but is much brighter and larger in our instruments. It, too, is low, about 7º high in the southwest and sets at 7:18 PM.
Saturn, East of Jupiter, still rules over Sagittarius. It is dimmer than Jupiter, and about half the size. However, Saturn glows about 16º high in the South and provides a stirring sight of its famous ring system. Saturn sets at 9:40 PM.
Looking further eastward, Mars illuminates the dim constellation of Capricornus. It glares with minus 0.8 magnitude, about 86% lit, about 13 arc-seconds in size and 23º high. Observing conditions continue to improve, according to reports. Mars is best observed at 8:08 PM and sets about 1 AM.
Neptune, to Mars’ upper left in Aquarius, shines with 7th magnitude, appears a tiny 2.3 arc-seconds in size and about 40º high in the southeast. It is best observed at 9:52 PM and sets at 3:27 AM. Uranus, to Neptune’s lower left in Pisces, is brighter at 5th magnitude and a bit larger. Uranus is best observed at 12:43 AM and remains up all night. Uranus is just passed Opposition, normally the best time to see this distant planet, especially from a dark place. However, the Moon may hinder observing both.
Monday’s Moon, rises in Cetus at 5:30 PM, is highest at 11:37 PM and sets at 5:52 AM. Blazing at minus 11th magnitude, the Moon is nearly “Full” – about 96% lit. Tuesday’s Moon, in Pisces, is fatter and brighter. It rises at 5:58 PM, is highest at 12:23 AM and sets at 6:57 AM. The Moon becomes officially “Full” at 12:45 PM, Wednesday. On both nights, the Moon is located between Neptune and Uranus.
Pre-dawn observers on Monday and Tuesday nights may see meteors streaming from the area of Orion’s club. This is the annual Orionid meteor shower. Meteor showers result when Earth’s orbit crosses paths with debris from comets’ tails. The Orionids originate from the most famous comet of them all – Comet Halley, which returns about every 76 years. The shower’s peak was Sunday afternoon. Orionids are noted for being fast and faint. Due to brilliant moonlight, experts expect to see about 10 meteors per hour. The constellation is high after midnight. The observer needs no special equipment; he simply stares at the sky. Since this is Autumn, cold weather clothing and boots help avoid the chill.