This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, October 7th and 8th, written by Joe Slomka.
The Sun sets at 6:26 PM; night falls at 8. Dawn breaks at 5:26 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7.
The Moon dominates the evening sky, in Capricornus on both nights. On Monday, the 9-day-old Moon is already up and blazing with minus 10th magnitude and appearing about 70% illuminated. It is best observed at 8:44 PM, when it is about 21 high; it sets at 1:17 AM, Tuesday. Tuesday evening sees it about 80% lit and a bit brighter. It is best observed at 9:30 PM and sets Wednesday at 2:27 AM.
Jupiter and Saturn continue to be the only easily visible evening planets. Jupiter, still in Ophiuchus, glows with minus 2nd magnitude, appears about 35 arc-seconds in size and is about 19 high. It sets at 9:35 PM.
Saturn rises about 2 hours after Jupiter. It still resides in Sagittarius. The Ringed Planet shines with zero magnitude and appears half Jupiter’s size. It lies quite low, about 24 above the horizon, but still presents a nice view of its famous rings. It sets at 11:24 PM.
Both Mercury and Venus have completed superior conjunction with the Sun and are now visible. Both are very low on the western horizon and share Virgo. Mercury appears about 80% lit, glows with minus zero magnitude, is 2 high and sets at 7:08 PM. Venus lies about 8 to Mercury’s lower right. It appears nearly “full” and blazes with minus 4th magnitude. However, it is only about 1 high and sets about 34 minutes after sunset. Binoculars are recommended in seeking these elusive planets. Observers are cautioned to steer clear of the Sun.
Neptune is already up in Aquarius. It is nearly 8th magnitude and is a tiny 2 arc-seconds in size, but 25 high in the southeast. It is best observed at 11:08 PM and sets at 4:04 AM. Uranus rises in Aries at 7:11 PM, appearing brighter and a bit larger than Neptune. It is highest at 1:58 AM and sets after sunrise. Finder charts are available from astronomy magazines and websites.
Mars makes a fleeting appearance just before sunrise, rising at 5:57 AM. By Civil Dawn, it shines with 1st magnitude, is a tiny 3 arc-seconds in size and is almost 6 above the eastern horizon. We mention this now, because a year from now it will be 6 times wider and at Opposition, the best time to see Mars. Also, on Monday, Mars experiences its Summer Solstice. Since Mars takes 2 earth-years to circle the Sun, its seasons last 6 months.
Monday marks the 27th anniversary of a car accident; but the cause of this fender-bender was unusual. On October 9, 1992, a fireball (very bright meteor) streaked through the sky. Sixteen different cameras that were recording local high school football games videotaped it. It was the first meteor to be captured in flight. The meteorite crashed into Michelle Knapp’s Chevy Malibu, in Peekskill, New York, totaling it. Although the annual minor Draconid meteor shower was taking place, the origin of the meteor is still uncertain. The multiple recording of its path provided meteor scientists with a rare opportunity to actually determine the meteorite’s origin. Ms. Knapp sold both the meteorite and damaged car to collectors. The 4.4-billion-year-old football-sized rock weighted 26 pounds. It was part of a broken-up asteroid. The stony meteorite is about twenty percent nickel-iron. Specimens of the Peekskill Meteorite can be seen in the American Museum of Natural History in New York City, the Smithsonian and Chicago’s Field Museum.
The Draconid meteor shower is now at its peak. The Orionid Meteor Shower, a product of Halley’s Comet, will also have its peak on the night of October 21/22.