Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report for October 11 – 17

The Milky Way galaxy over Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of the National Park Service, St. George News

Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report
John Mosley

Oct. 11 – 17

The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate, and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is at www.stellarvistaobservatory.org. Send questions and comments to [email protected]

Three of the four bright planets are easy to spot in the evening sky, and in order of appearance they’re Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. Mars is behind the sun and cannot be seen.

Venus appears first because it’s the brightest, and in fact it’s so bright you can see it during the daytime with your eyes alone if you know precisely where to look (and that’s the trick). It’s surprisingly easy to see at the moment of sunset, and here’s how to do it: find it early one night, perhaps using binoculars, and mark its position with reference to the horizon and its height. Look for it a bit to the left of that position 15 or so minutes earlier the next night, and repeat, until you can see it at sunset – and before. Binoculars are a huge help.

Venus’ brilliance comes largely from its highly reflective clouds. Notice how pure white is its light, which is reflected sunlight. Compare this to the color of the red star Antares which Venus passes on Saturday. Antares is a red giant star and one of the largest stars you can see (Google it). Antares is the brightest star in Scorpius and the 15th brightest star in the entire sky, but Venus is 140 times brighter.

On the 16th Antares is 1½ degrees, or three times the diameter of the moon, below Venus, although the two remain close all week. Take the opportunity to watch Venus approach and then pass Antares night by night; a conjunction is a process, not an event, so don’t just look Saturday. This is the closest Venus will come to Antares until October 2029.

The second planet to appear is Jupiter, which is almost as bright as Venus but which is seen against a darker background sky, farther from the sun. Look for it a third of the way up the southeastern sky as darkness falls. It’s far brighter than any star, so you can’t miss it.

Saturn is 1/20 as bright as Jupiter, which puts it as bright as the brightest stars, and it’s 15 degrees to the upper right of Jupiter. Remember that the width of your fist held at arm’s length is about 10 degrees. The “waxing gibbous” moon is near Saturn on the 13th and roughly between Jupiter and Saturn on the 14th.

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