This year, October offers an excellent opportunity to observe the naked-eye planets. The show kicks off in the evening as three of the most beautiful members of the planetary world illuminate the sky.
Venus in the early evening
The first to appear is the very brilliant Venus—look for it above the southwestern horizon about 20 minutes after sunset, after which it remains visible for a little more than an hour before disappearing beneath the horizon.
Venus is currently in Scorpius. As the sky grows darker, you may spot a reddish star close to the planet: That’s Antares, often confused with the planet Mars because of its colour. Antares actually means “rival of Ares,” referring to the ancient Greek god of war that the Romans later named Mars. On the evening of October 16, Venus passes a mere 1½ degrees above Antares.
On the evening of October 9, the thin crescent Moon hovers less than 2 degrees above Venus: You’ll need a clear horizon to enjoy the view, which will be spectacular through binoculars.
Jupiter and Saturn all evening long
While Venus shines in the southwest, turn your gaze a little further to the left and you’ll find the giants Jupiter and Saturn reigning above the south-southeastern horizon. Jupiter is the brighter of the pair, while the slightly fainter Saturn stands about 15 degrees to its right. They are clearly visible in the first half of the night throughout October, although Saturn vanishes in the southwest around midnight, followed by Jupiter more than an hour later. In fact, nightfall is when the two giants are highest in the sky and in an ideal position for telescope viewing: Jupiter’s clouds and Saturn’s rings are beckoning to you!
The Moon joins our planetary duo from October 13 to 15. On the 13th, the lunar disc will glide about 7 degrees to the lower right of Saturn. The next day, the gibbous Moon can be found at an equal distance from the two planets. And finally, the Moon will hang to the lower left of brilliant Jupiter on the evening of October 15.
Mercury in the morning
Mercury is a planet that never strays far from the Sun, as seen from Earth, which explains why it’s so difficult to observe. However, it does make a nice foray into the morning sky during the second half of October. Starting on the 18th, early risers can spot the tiny planet above the eastern horizon, about 30 minutes before sunrise. Mercury pulls away from the Sun with each passing day, becoming visible earlier and earlier as its brightness increases. By month’s end, Mercury clears the horizon more than one hour and 15 minutes before the Sun: At around 7 a.m., look for the tiny point of light about 10 degrees above the east-southeastern horizon.