The Sky Above You – October 2021
By Duncan Lunan
The Moon will be New on October 6th, and Full on October 20th. The crescent Moon will be near Venus on the 9th , and the First Quarter Moon will be to the right of Jupiter and Saturn on the 13th. On the 22nd the waning Moon will be near the Pleiades, and above to the left of the Hyades cluster and Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, on the 23rd, after which it will be in line with Castor and Pollux in Gemini on the 27th. Clocks go back at 2 am on the 31st; when we revert to ‘real time’ (GMT/UT) with the Sun due south at midday.
Although not visible, the planet Mercury is passed by the Moon on the 6th and is at inferior conjunction, on this side of the Sun on the 9th. It then moves to the morning sky, first appearing in mid-October and making its best morning appearance of the year. (For a full explanation, see the detailed article in the October issue of Astronomy Now.) Mercury is furthest from the Sun on October 25th.
Venus is still low in the west, passing above Antares in Scorpius on October 16th, but getting brighter as it draws nearer to us. Venus is passed by the Moon on the 9th, and at its maximum elongation from the Sun on October 29th.
Mars is out of sight when passed by the Moon on the 6th, and it reaches superior conjunction with the Sun on the 8th, when communication with the rovers on the surface will temporarily be cut off. Curiosity, Perseverance and Zhurong are all doing well, though, and expected to resume contact in due course.
Jupiter is moving westward in Capricornus, changing direction after October 18th (see below), and sets around 2 am, passed by the Moon on October 15th.
Saturn in mid-Capricornus, to the right of Jupiter, and it too reverts to direct motion after October 11th. Saturn sets at midnight and is passed by the Moon on the 13th and 14th.
Uranus in Aries rises at 6.30 pm. Uranus is near the Moon on the 24th.
Neptune in Aquarius sets at 4.30 am, near the Moon on the 17th. After being passed by the Earth recently, all four gas giant planets have been appearing to move westward (retrograde), and Uranus and Neptune will continue to do so throughout October.
The Orionid meteors from Halley’s Comet peak on the night of 21st/22nd October. The meteors are not expected to be numerous, with the comet now beyond the orbit of Neptune and nearing its furthest from the Sun, but in addition this year’s display will be spoiled by moonlight. There are two other meteor showers occurring in October: the first is the Draconids, from Comet Giacobini-Zinner, which was the second comet to be visited by Europe’s Giotto mission, after Halley’s Comet. The peak of the shower is on the evening of October 8th, but don’t expect more than a few meteors per hour. The same applies to the Taurids, which peak on October 10th, but can be seen individually at any time between September 10th and October 20th. Taurid meteors can be spectacular, so it’s worth keeping an eye open for them.
The Taurid meteors come from Encke’s Comet, which has been captured by Jupiter into orbit in the inner Solar System, coming back every three years or so. NASA tried to reach it with a mission called Contour in 2002, but the probe failed on the way there. Dr. Alan Cayless of the Open University (a regular speaker at the Astronomers of the Future Club in Troon) is currently taking two student groups through an exercise to design an Encke’s Comet mission – only a paper study, but who knows where it might lead?
Meetings of the Astronomers of the Future Club (www.astronomersofthefuture.org) have resumed on a trial basis, at 7.15 pm on the last Wednesday evening of the month, at the RSAS Barassie Works Club, 4 Shore Road, Troon KA10 6AG. On September 29th I was the speaker, talking about the interstellar object ‘Oumuamua, which may have been an extraterrestrial solar sail. My paper on the subject was published in the online journal Concatenation on September 14th, and can be accessed at http://www.concatenation.org/science/lunan-oumuamua-visitor.html. On October 27th the guest will be Prof. Colin McInnes of Glasgow University, talking about settlements in space.
Duncan Lunan’s most recent book, The Other Side of the Interface, was published by Other Side Books at the beginning of the year, and is available through Amazon or through bookshops, or from the publishers. For details and for his other books see Duncan’s website, www.duncanlunan.com.
The Sky Above You
By Duncan Lunan
About this Column
I began writing this column in early 1983 at the suggestion of the late Chris Boyce. At that time the Post Office would allow 1000 free mailings to start a new business, just under the number of small press newspapers in the UK at the time. I printed a flyer with the help of John Braithwaite (of Braithwaite Telescopes) offering a three-part column for £5, with the sky this month, a series of articles for beginners, and a monthly news feature. The column ran from May 1983 to May 1993 in various newspapers and magazines, but never in more than five outlets at a time, although every one of those 1000-plus papers would have included an astrology column. Since then it’s appeared sporadically in a range of publications including The Southsider in Glasgow and the Dalyan Courier in Turkey, but most often, normally three times per year, in Jeff Hawke’s Cosmos from the first issue in March 2003 until the last in January 2018. It continues to appear monthly in Troon's Going Out and Orkney News. Enquries from other outlets welcomed!
The monthly maps for the column were drawn for me by Jim Barker, based on similar, uncredited ones in Dr. Leon Hausman’s “Astronomy Handbook” (Fawcett Publications, 1956). Jim had to redraw or elongate several of them because they were drawn for mid-US latitudes, about 40 degrees North, making them usable over most of the northern hemisphere. The biggest change needed was in November when only Dubhe, Merak and Megrez of the Big Dipper, as the US version called it, were visible at that latitude. In the UK, all the stars of the Plough are circumpolar, always above the horizon. We decided to keep an insert in the January map showing the position of M42, the Great Nebula in the Sword of Orion, and for that reason, to stick with the set time of 9 p.m., (10 p.m. BST in summer), although in Scotland the sky isn’t dark then during June and July.
To use the maps in theory you should hold them overhead, aligning the North edge to true north, marked by Polaris and indicated by Dubhe and Merak, the Pointers. It’s more practical to hold the map in front of you when looking south and then rotate it as you face east, south and west. Some readers are confused because east is on the left, opposite to terrestrial maps, but that’s because they’re the other way up. When you’re facing south and looking at the sky, east is on your left.
The star patterns are the same for each month of each year, and only the positions of the planets change. (“Astronomy Handbook” accidentally shows Saturn in Virgo during May, showing that the maps weren’t originally drawn for the Hausman book.) Consequently regular readers for a year will by then have built up a complete set of twelve.