The new moon occurs on Wednesday (Oct. 6), at 7:05 a.m. EDT (1205 GMT), and that night you might see a few meteors as well.
New moons happen when the moon passes between the sun and Earth. About every 29.5 days the sun and moon share the same celestial longitude, an alignment also called a conjunction. Celestial longitude is a projection of the Earth’s own longitude lines on the celestial sphere. If you drew an imaginary line from Polaris, the North Star, due south toward the sun, it would also hit the new moon.
The night of the new moon brings a minor meteor shower called the October Camelopardalids. The meteors are named for the constellation they appear to come from, though technically the radiant point is in the constellation Draco. The stars of both Draco and Camelopardalis, the giraffe, are relatively faint and hard to see from urban locations, but they are circumpolar, which means they never set in mid-northern latitudes. The radiant is highest in the sky in the morning, so the best time to catch meteors is after midnight, in pre-dawn hours. The peak rates for this meteor shower are from one to five per hour.
Two days after the new moon, on Friday (Oct. 8), another meteor shower, called the Draconids or Giacobinids, will peak. This shower also has a radiant in Draco, north and east of the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra, the lyre. This shower is also light, with no more than five to 10 meteors every hour.
Like the Camelopardalids, the radiant never sets from anywhere north of Richmond, Virginia. That said, on Oct. 8 the radiant will reach its highest point in the sky at about 5 p.m. local time, so more meteors are likely to be visible in the hours after dusk.
The summer stars are setting at this time of year, and in the evening sky on Wednesday (Oct. 6) it should be easy to spot Jupiter and Saturn in the south, with the brighter planet Jupiter on the left (from the Northern Hemisphere).
Jupiter and Saturn will be in the constellation Capricornus, the sea-goat, about 32 degrees and 30 degrees above the horizon, respectively, when viewed from New York City. On the night of the new moon in New York City Jupiter and Saturn set at 2:41 a.m. and 1:22 a.m. local time, respectively, according to the skywatching site Heavens Above.
Venus, meanwhile, is an “evening star” and one of the brightest objects in the night sky. In New York City on Oct. 6 the planet sets at 8:15 p.m., well after sunset at 6:29 p.m. local time. The planet is bright enough that it’s often one of the very first “stars” to appear in the evening before the sky is completely dark, but it might still be a challenge to spot as it will only be about 15 degrees above the horizon at sunset. Venus will be shining at magnitude -4.1, which makes it about 11 times as bright as the brightest star we can see: Sirius, the “Dog Star” in Canis Major (which rises at about 1:34 a.m. on Oct. 7). As it sets, Venus will be to the right of the bright star Antares, the “heart” of the constellation Scorpius, the scorpion.
Mercury and Mars, meanwhile, will be impossible to see, as they are so close to the sun. Mercury is approaching inferior conjunction (which happens on Oct. 9) and Mars is approaching superior conjunction, when it is behind the sun from the perspective of Earth (this occurs on Oct. 8).
Skywatchers in the Southern Hemisphere will see the planets reversed. In Melbourne, Australia, the new moon occurs at 10:05 p.m. local time on Oct. 6. Jupiter and Saturn will be much higher in the sky than from North America; at that moment Jupiter will be 67.4 degrees above the northern horizon and Saturn will be 66.8 degrees high. Saturn will be to the left of Jupiter.
Antipodeans will also have an easier time seeing Venus — the planet doesn’t set until 11:16 p.m. local time in Melbourne; at sunset it has an altitude of 43 degrees at sunset, which is at 7:29 p.m. on Oct. 6.
Stars and constellations
In early October, the “summer” constellations of the zodiac — Sagittarius, Ophiuchus and Scorpius — are setting by evening. Just after sunset, at around 8 p.m., the “wet region” of the sky is prominent to the south. The wet region is called that because so many of the constellations are water-themed; at 8 p.m. looking south one sees Capricornus, Aquarius and Pisces (looking from roughly southeast to west to). Just below Pisces is Cetus, the whale. All of these constellations are relatively faint; none has a first-magnitude star and from urban locations they can be difficult to see.
To the north from Aquarius you can see the constellations of Pegasus and Andromeda, and the asterism called the Great Square. One corner of the square is Andromeda’s head, while the other three mark the wing of Pegasus, the legendary flying horse ridden by Perseus to save Andromeda from a sea monster. Andromeda’s rescuer, Perseus, is rising in the northeast by 8 p.m. local time.
From Andromeda’s head one can trace two lines of stars and find the Andromeda Galaxy, which can be spotted from a dark-sky site with the naked eye as a dim smudge of light; through a pair of binoculars the spiral shape becomes evident.
Closer to the southern horizon one can see Fomalhaut, the brightest star in Piscis Austrinus, the Southern Fish. Fomalhaut is a first-magnitude star that is also one of the sun’s near neighbors, “only” 25 light-years away.
Meanwhile, mid-latitude Southern Hemisphere observers will see the Southern Cross in the south-southwest just after sunset. The Cross will be just to the left of the Centaur, home to Alpha Centauri. Alpha Centauri is quite bright and in a sort of cluster of bright stars in that region of the sky — one can find it using the Southern Cross and tracing a line across the “spar” of the cross to the north.
Looking southeast after sunset, one will see the constellation of Eridanus, the river, and the star Achernar which marks its southern end — the other end of the constellation is near the constellation Orion, the hunter, which will rise just before midnight. By about 10 p.m. in mid-southern latitudes Canopus will be high enough to easily see; the star is circumpolar from Melbourne or Wellington, New Zealand, but earlier in the evening it hugs the horizon.
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