Sunrise and Sunset Times
Eastern Daylight Time from the U.S. Naval Observatory
Sun rises at 6:58 a.m. and sets at 6:44 p.m. on the 1st
Sun rises at 7:29 a.m. and sets at 6 p.m. on the 31st
Moon’s Phases in October
New Moon on the 8th.
Full “Hunter’s Moon” on the 24th
Stars and Constellations
October, like its spring opposite April, is considered by many sky watchers as one of the most desirable months for viewing the sky. One bright star that can be seen in the night sky in both October and April is Arcturus, fourth brightest star in the night sky. Look for Arcturus low in the west-northwest, its orange-gold color a reminder of the pumpkin harvest at this time of year. Arcturus drops below the western horizon before 10 p.m. in mid-October and will reappear in the evening sky next April.
Just west of overhead by 8 p.m. in mid-October is another seasonal holdover: the “summer” triangle of Vega, Deneb and Altair. By around 10 p.m., as the summer triangle is sinking toward the west-northwest, a celebrated star of autumn is getting higher in the opposite side of the sky, the southeast. That star is Fomalhaut in the constellation Pisces Austrinus, the Southern Fish. Fomalhaut is a whitish star thatlies about 25 light years from our solar system. Further to the east is the constellation Cetus, the Whale. Cetus’s two brightest stars lie at opposite sides of the constellation: Diphda, or Deneb Kaitos, at its southwestern side, and Menkar, or Alpha Ceti, on its northeastern side.
The Great Square of Pegasus, consisting of four stars, is high in the south-southeast at about this same time and is the most distinctive landmark of autumn nights. Roughly halfway between the Great Square and Fomalhaut lies the zodiac constellation Aquarius. Aquarius, like the two zodiac constellations that bracket it — Capricornus, the Sea Goat (which currently contains the planet Mars), to its west and Pisces, the Fishes, to its east — is very faint. Because of the preponderance of constellations associated with water in the autumn sky, this entire region was called “the Sea” by ancient cultures.
In the northeast, we find the signature “W” shape of the constellation Cassiopeia, the Queen of ancient Ethiopia. The “W” opens up toward Polaris, the North Star. And below Cassiopeia lies Perseus, the legendary hero who saved Andromeda from Cetus, the sea monster.
Naked-Eye Planets in the Evening and Morning Sky
Mercury appears as an “evening star” this October, but it will be extremely hard to spot at its low elevation in the west after sunset. Binoculars will help to pick Mercury out of the twilight glow.
Venus wraps up a spectacular run in the evening sky this month. As October opens, Venus is brilliant as ever, but only those observers with an unobstructed western horizon will be able to see it. Venus sets less than an hour after sunset on the 1st, and so it is best to start looking for it at least a half-hour earlier when it is still a few degrees above the horizon. A small telescope will reveal Venus to have a thin crescent phase. The gap between Venus and the Sun gets progressively smaller over the next several weeks, and Venus reaches conjunction with the Sun on the 26th, passing approximately between Sun and Earth. Look for Venus when it reappears in the dawn sky during early November.
Jupiter, which has been a fixture in the night sky since last spring, nears the end of its evening run later this fall; it will vanish into the dusk glow next month. Jupiter resembles a brilliant golden “star,” beaming low in the southwest at nightfall. Jupiter sets around 8:30 p.m. on Oct. 1 and by 7 p.m. on Halloween night.
Saturn resembles a moderately bright cream-colored star among the fainter, true stars of the constellation Sagittarius. In the early days of October, Saturn crosses the south meridian just before sunset and sets just after 11 p.m. By month’s end, Saturn is setting by around 9 p.m. Saturn’s magnificent ring system are easily seen through even a small telescope.
Brilliant, orangish Mars is up in the south-southeast at nightfall and lies due south by around 8:30 p.m. As October opens, Mars’s brightness has diminished to only about one-quarter of its maximum back in late July, but it is still brighter than any star in the night sky except Sirius, and it remains an impressive sight through a telescope. Mars sets a little before 3 a.m. on the 1st and around 1:30 a.m. on the 30th.
The Orionid Meteor Shower is best visible during early mornings of Oct. 21 to 22. Its source: minute particles from Halley’s Comet. Typically 10 to 12 meteors per hour are seen, appearing to emanate from Orion, which will be rising in the east just before midnight.
Information on lunar phases and rise/set times of Sun and planets is obtained from the U.S. Naval Observatory Data Services at usno.navy.mil/astronomy. Additional information comes from "The Astronomical Almanac (2016-2020)" by Richard J. Bartlett (Stars ‘n Stuff Publishing, 2015). For more information on the night sky, visit the Widener Observatory Stargazing website at widener.edu/stargazing. A set of free sky maps can be obtained at skymaps.com.