October evenings offer many wonderful night-sky sights — including a dramatic appearance by Mars — and you can find them by listening to our guided audio tour of the star-filled sky.
As evening twilight fades, make a left turn away from the sunset point, and you’ll have an easy time spotting Jupiter, perched above the southern horizon about a third of the way to overhead. Not far to Jupiter’s left is a dimmer but still obvious star. That’s actually Saturn. The nearly first-quarter Moon passes near Jupiter and Saturn on the 22nd, and they’ll make an attractive trio that night.
But the real star of this month’s celestial show is Mars! The Red Planet will be well up in the east by about 9 p.m., and it’ll look almost alarmingly bright. That’s because on October 6th, Mars will be just 38.6 million miles from Earth — it won’t be this close again until 2035. One week later, on the 13th, Mars will be at what astronomers call opposition, directly opposite the Sun in the sky, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise.
This planet was named for the Roman god of war because of its ruddy hue. And do you know why Mars looks red? Listen to this month's Sky Tour podcast to find out!
Another celestial happening is that there will be two full Moons during October, on the 1st and 31st (Halloween). In recent years it’s been popular to call this second full Moon in a single month a “Blue Moon.” This usage, it seems, came from a 1946 article in Sky & Telescope. But if you really dig deep, the term “Blue Moon” was first used before then — and for a very different reason that you'll learn about when you listen to the podcast.
Meanwhile, look toward northwest, and you’ll find the Big Dipper not far above the horizon. Actually, in this pose, it’s easy to see that its seven stars are part of a larger star pattern tracing out the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Many widely separated cultures have recognized this general pattern of stars as a bear, and some historians think its origin as such might date back more than 10,000 years.
There’s lots more to see after it gets dark on October evenings, and this month’s Sky Tour astronomy podcast is a fun and entertaining way to track them down. No stargazing experience or equipment is needed! So if you’ve got 11 minutes to spare, why not give it a try?