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:
- Total Lunar Eclipse - If you live in the western half of North America or in Hawaii, mark your calendars to catch a Total Lunar Eclipse on the night of October 8th. During this must-see event, the Moon will pass through the Earth's shadow, causing the Moon to temporarily turn a beautiful, bright orange-red color. Use a pair of binoculars or unaided eyes to see this rare event, or go the extra mile and capture snapshots of the Total Lunar Eclipse by using a telescope equipped with a tracking motor drive and an astrophotography camera
- 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 7th, 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. While the Full Moon of October 8th will make viewing Uranus a challenge, it's still worth the effort to know you're looking at one of the most distant planets in our Solar System.
- 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 and good seeing conditions, you may be able to tease out the galaxy's faint spiral arms.
- Partial Solar Eclipse - On October 23rd, grab your solar filter equipped telescope or binoculars and get outside before sunset to witness a partial solar eclipse! You won't want to miss the action as the Moon's shadow appears to "take a bite" out of the setting Sun just before sunset. We'd love to see your astrophotos of this rare solar event - but don't forget to use a protective Orion Solar Filter for your telescope.
- 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" or larger 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.