October nights will be full of celestial treats for amateur astronomers to see with binoculars and telescopes. Here are some of our top October stargazing suggestions:
Get Ready for Comet ISON's "Impact" - While we know Comet ISON will NOT actually hit anything, it's sure to make an "impact" of sorts on your observing schedule and in social media as the comet approaches the Sun and the Earth this fall and winter. Early- morning risers may be able to catch a glimpse of Comet ISON on October 1st when Comet ISON will appear about a degree northeast of Mars in the pre-dawn sky. If predictions are correct, Comet ISON will brighten rapidly after it passes Mars on its way towards to Sun throughout October, and should be visible in 4" or larger aperture telescopes all month long. If all goes well, this comet may reach naked-eye visibility by Halloween! "Trick or Treat" indeed! Be sure to check out our online Community section for updates.
The Sickle of Leo, Mars, Comet ISON and the Moon, October 1 , looking east in the pre-dawn morning sky. Sky Map from Stellarium
Time to (Star) Party! - The weekend of October 5th and 6th is a great opportunity to get out to a dark sky site with friends and family to enjoy spectacular sights and inky-black skies. The New Moon of October 4th will make it the darkest weekend of the month, so it's the best time to see objects beyond our solar system, and to get great views of planets too.
Jupiter Season Begins - Big and bright planet Jupiter will rise in the east around midnight in early October, and by about 10 PM near the end of the month. While Jupiter's brightness makes it easily visible to unaided eyes, try looking at the Jovian giant with a pair of 50mm or larger astronomy binoculars to coax out views of its 4 brightest moons; Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Check in on Jupiter every night to see these moons change position as the "dance" around Jupiter in their orbital paths. With even a small telescope, you'll see Jupiter's main equatorial cloud belts at high power, but step up to a 6" or 8" telescope and the show is spectacular.
Best Chance to See Distant Uranus - On October 3rd, gas-giant planet Uranus will at opposition (meaning the Earth will be positioned between Uranus and the Sun along a roughly straight line). This is when Uranus will be in its orbit's nearest point to Earth. Grab a pair of binoculars or a telescope and a star chart or StarSeek app to try tracking down this 6.5 magnitude planet, which is just below naked-eye visibility, in the constellation Pisces.
October Deep Sky Treats - In early October, catch your last glimpse of the year of the galactic center in the constellation Sagittarius, low in the southwestern sky, where you can track down four great emission nebulas - M8, the Lagoon; M20, the Trifid; M17 the Omega; and M16, the Eagle or "Star Queen" nebulas.
Two great planetary nebulas are still well-placed in October skies - M57, the Ring Nebula; and M27, the Dumbbell Nebula.
Look for interesting galaxy NGC 7331 in the northwestern section of the constellation Pegasus. With a 12" or larger aperture telescope, you may be able to tease out the galaxy's faint spiral arms.
Challenge Object: NGC 404 - Use your StarSeek app or a star chart to track down star Beta Andromeda in the constellation Andromeda. Carefully inspect the area just northwest of the star to see the faint glow of galaxy NGC 404, a small 11th magnitude dwarf galaxy that's approximately 10 million light years away from Earth. You'll likely need a 6" telescope at high power, but can you see it in a smaller telescope?
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars. All objects have been verified by actual observations by Orion Telescopes & Binoculars Staff at Fremont Peak State Park, and/or Deep Sky Ranch, 60 miles and 90 miles respectively from San Jose International Airport, San Jose, CA.