October Sky


According to the National Climatic Center, the month of October is the least cloudy month of the year in the Southeastern United States making it a perfect time to get out there.  The entire expanse of skies from Maine to Texas offers at least a fifty percent chance of clear skies this month. Clear skies allow for spectacular sky viewing and we have some awesome sky events coming this month. October’s clear skies, earlier sunsets, and moderate temperatures make this month one of the best times to get outside a pair of binoculars or backyard telescope.  

We will have to say goodbye to some planetarium friends this month. Planets Mercury and Venus are buried in the glow of the sunset in the west.  Jupiter is not far behind them this month and is only visible for a short time as it sets at twilight’s end.

Mars has been dominating the sky for the past several months.  This planet is visible as a red dot high in the Southern sky. It is growing fainter this month as the distance between Earth and Mars increases.  When seen through a small telescope, Mars appears to go through phases similar to our Moon. This month only about 88% of the planet’s surface will be seen.

Saturn is still visible as a pale yellow disk in the constellation of Sagittarius and is seen in the lower Southern sky this month. You can find it about three or four fists at arm’s length to the right of Mars.  Here is the view of Saturn from a small backyard telescope. 




The Moon has a great encounter with Saturn on the evening of October 13.  This is the view of the waxing crescent moon and the beautiful ringed planet Saturn.

Four nights later, our waxing moon heads away from Saturn has another encounter with Mars. Notice that the moon has waxed or gotten brighter. What a wonder our skies are! Always new and exciting. 

The moon takes center stage this month.  The Beazley Planetarium will partner with the National Institute of Aerospace – Center for Innovative STEM education to celebrate all things lunar.  Special programming for families and educators are offered including opportunities for families to make and take their own telescopes. This is in conjunction with the International Observe the Moon Night.  

International Observe the Moon Night is a worldwide celebration of lunar science and exploration held annually since 2010. One day each year, everyone on Earth is invited to observe and learn about the Moon together, and to celebrate the cultural and personal connections we all have with our nearest neighbor.

The day will culminate with a lunar viewing from 5:00 PM to 6:00 PM on Saturday, October 20, 2018.

Think about joining us here at the Children’s Museum of Virginia or find other events at the NASA site:

Constellations are patterns formed by connecting stars into various shapes.  There are 88 constellations in the night sky. We can also connect the bright stars of different constellations into smaller patterns called asterisms.  A familiar asterism that most people know is the Big Dipper; seven stars resembling a large spoon in the Northern sky.  The Big Dipper is in the constellation of Ursa Major or the Great Bear.  One of my favorite asterisms can be seen in the fall even though it is known as the Summer Triangle.  The Summer Triangle is formed by connecting the bright stars Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, Vega in Lyra the Harp, and Altair in Aquilla the Eagle.  There is some really interesting object within the area of the triangle including Alberio in Cygnus.  Alberio looks like a single star to the naked eye, but a small telescope reveals it to actually be a pair of stars, one blue and one orange.

The sky is full of wonder, a celestial show. Never stop asking “What’s up?”  You will always be amazed.

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