Some daily events in the changing sky for October 23 – 31.
Friday, October 23
Saturday, October 24
Sunday, October 25
Monday, October 26
Tuesday, October 27
Wednesday, October 28
Thursday, October 29
Friday, October 30
Saturday, October 31
Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope. For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts; the standards are Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the more detailed and descriptive Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway (and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand and a curious mind." Without these, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury has become lost in the glow of sunrise.
Venus (magnitude –3.9, in central Virgo) is also getting lower in the east at dawn, but much more slowly; it's still moderately well up. Venus is so bright that it's easy to spot if you look low in the east 60 to 30 minutes before your local sunrise time. Saturn, only a hundredth as bright, is above Venus and somewhat to the right; their separation widens from 12° to 20° this week. Late in the week, use binoculars to look below Venus for twinkly little Spica.
Mars (magnitude +0.5, in central Cancer) rises around midnight and is very high in the southeast before dawn. It's below Gemini's head stars, Pollux and Castor. Use binoculars to watch Mars closing in on the Beehive Star Cluster; it will cross the cluster from the mornings of October 31st to November 2nd.
In a telescope Mars is still only about 7.6 arcseconds wide: a tiny, fuzzy gibbous blob. Mars is on its way to an unremarkable opposition late next January, when it will be 14.1 arcseconds wide.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.5, in Capricornus) shines brightly in the south after dark and lower in the southwest later in the night. It sets around 1 a.m.
Saturn (magnitude 1.1, in the head of Virgo) is getting higher the east-southeast during early dawn. Look for it to the upper right of low Venus — by 12° at the beginning of the week, 20° at week's end.
Uranus (magnitude 5.8, below the Circlet of Pisces) is well up in the southeast to south during evening.
Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Capricornus) is 6° east of Jupiter.
See our finder charts for Uranus and Neptune. For a guide to spotting the challenging satellites of Uranus and Neptune at any date and time (you'll need a big scope), see the October Sky & Telescope, page 59.
Pluto (14th magnitude, in Sagittarius) is sinking into the sunset.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Daylight Time (EDT) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 4 hours.
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