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What's in the Sky - October 2020

October nights will be full of celestial treats to see with binoculars and telescopes. Here are some of our top October stargazing suggestions.

Mars At Opposition
Mars reaches opposition on October 13th, making this the ideal time for observing! Opposition is when the Earth passes directly between a planet and the Sun. This coincides with the planets closest approach to Earth, providing an excellent opportunity for great views in a telescope.

On the 13th Mars will have an apparent size of 22.3 arcseconds, making this an exciting opportunity. The next time Mars will appear larger than 20 arcseconds during opposition is in 2033, so get ready with a planetary camera and snap a picture during this close pass!

Orionids Meteor Shower
As Orion rises on October 20th around midnight, you can feast your eyes on the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. Around 15 meteors per hour are expected at peak, but the shower will be active from October 2nd to November 7th.

New Moon
For the best conditions to see galaxies, nebulas, and other deep sky objects, plan a stargazing session for the night of October 16th, when the New Moon will provide dark skies. This is the best night of the month to observe the night sky, since light from stars and faint deep sky objects won't have to compete with bright moonlight.

The Sculptor Galaxy (NGC 253)
Around midnight local time on October 3rd, the Sculptor galaxy (NGC 253) will be well positioned for viewing as it will be at the highest point in the sky. Cataloged as both H V.1 and Bennett 4, this 7th magnitude beauty is also known as Caldwell 65, and due to both its brightness and oblique angle is often called the "Silver Dollar Galaxy."

A Challenging Nebula
Making a small equilateral triangle with the stars Eta and Alpha Cassiopeiae is the elusive Pac Man Nebula, NGC 281. The Pac Man is a famous target for astrophotographers, but it's not very easy to observe visually. From dark sky locations, you can pick out its faint glow with large binoculars, but a telescope at low power with the help of an Oxygen-III filter will show it best.

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.