Stellar Vista Observatory Sky Report: Oct. 19-25

Stock image, St. George News

SOUTHERN UTAH — The Sky Report is presented as a public service by the Stellar Vista Observatory, a nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, which provides opportunities for people to observe, appreciate and comprehend our starry night sky. Additional information is available online. Send questions and comments to [email protected].

Mars is past its closest approach and is fading very slowly as the earth, on a faster orbit around the sun, leaves it behind, but Mars remains especially bright through November. It now rises slightly before sunset, so you can see it low in the east once the sky is dark. The best time to look at it through a telescope is later, when it has risen above the most turbulent layers of our atmosphere – but it’s tiny, so don’t expect to see much. To the unaided eye, though, it’s a pretty, bright orange planet that’s visible the entire night.

At the same time, Jupiter and Saturn are one-third of the way up the southwestern sky. Jupiter and Mars are the same brightness and are far brighter than any star, but Saturn – a short distance to the left of Jupiter – is much fainter. There are seldom three bright planets out at the same time in the evening, so don’t take them for granted and enjoy the spectacle now.

On Monday, the moon is directly above the orange star Antares, which means “rival of Mars”, in Scorpius. On Thursday, the first-quarter moon forms a nice triangle with Jupiter and Saturn.

Not to be left out, Venus, the brightest planet of all, rises in the east at 5 a.m. At 6 a.m., you can see Venus and Mars at the same time – Venus low in the east and Mars at the same altitude and low in the west, and compare their brightness and color. Mars sets before sunrise, but Venus is so bright you can follow it through morning twilight and even after the sun rises if you use binoculars. Venus rises later each morning and in six weeks we’ll lose it when it’s too nearly in line with the sun. So enjoy the “morning star” too while it’s still around.

On Tuesday night, the earth passes through a swarm of dust grains shed long ago by Halley’s comet and meteors fall in the annual Orionid meteor shower. The best time to observe is the morning of Wednesday when, from a dark location, you might see one swift meteor every four or five minutes, on average. They radiate from the direction of the constellation Orion but appear anywhere in the sky. You’ll hear a lot about it, but for the casual observer there’s not much to see.

Written by JOHN MOSLEY. John Mosley was program supervisor of the Griffith Observatory in Los Angeles for 27 years and is the author of “Stargazing for Beginners” and “Stargazing with Binoculars and Telescopes”. He and his wife live in St. George where he continues to stargaze from his retirement home while serving on the advisory committee for Stellar Vista Observatory.

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