Sky Notes for October 2013 with James Abbott #stargazing

Full Moon this month is on the night of October 18th/19th. There will be a penumbral eclipse starting at about 11pm and lasting through to about 3am BST. Seen from the Moon, the Earth passes in front of the Sun but on this occasion, not fully covering it, so some sunlight still gets through. A further factor is that in all lunar eclipses the Earth’s atmosphere refracts sunlight on to the Moon’s surface. Weather and dust in our atmosphere affect each eclipse slightly differently, in particular the extent of reddening of the Moon. So it will be worth observing the eclipse this month to see what the overall affects will be and what, if any, colours are visible. Given that it is a penumbral eclipse they are likely to be modest.

British Summer Time ends at 2am Sunday October 27th when the clocks go back one hour. With ten hours of darkness, starting at about 6.30pm GMT at the end of astronomical twilight, late October brings much better observing opportunities, albeit along with falling temperatures.

Venus may be seen briefly throughout the month in the West soon after sunset, but remains low. The young crescent Moon is close by on the evening of the 8th.


Jupiter continues to improve and by the end of October will be 30 degrees above the Eastern horizon by midnight GMT, at mag -2.4 blazing brighter than the surrounding prominent stars of Gemini and Orion.

On October 1st Comet ISON  (2012 S1) passes close to Mars – not just along our line of sight, but physically relatively close to the Red Planet. As the comet passes Mars at a distance of less than 7 million miles, the rover cameras on the surface of Mars and cameras on orbiters should get a view of the comet’s head and tail.


ISON then heads deeper into the inner solar system on its way to a very close approach to the Sun later this year. It is currently about mag +11, so within range of larger amateur instruments and could in November/December become a bright object visible to the unaided eye due to the extreme heating of the icy comet nucleus as it rounds the Sun. “Could” though is the watchword – comets can be brighter than expected, fainter – or even disintegrate entirely when close to the Sun. The BAA Comet Section Director is currently quoting between mag -3 and +4 for peak brightness – which is still a very large range.

Damian Peach took this image of Comet ISON on the 24th September:

Image: Damien Peach

With the Moon out of the late evening sky by the last week of the month, around 10pm BST (or 9pm GMT after the clocks change) the classic autumn constellation Taurus is due East, almost 30 degrees up from the horizon. It contains two easily visible star clusters, the V shaped Hyades, near the bright orange star Aldebaran, and the more tightly packed Pleiades above. Both clusters have been crucial to our understanding of how groups of stars form from clouds of gas and dust and then mature and spread out in space. The Hyades are about 150 light years away from us and were born from same cloud of gas and dust around 600 million years ago. The Pleiades are much younger, about 100 million years old and about 400 light years away. Both clusters are a fine sight in binoculars.

James Abbott is an astronomer, NEAS member and CfDS Regional Information Officer.

You can download a free map of the evening sky here:


Posted on 28 September, 2013, in Astronomy News, Observing News, Popular Science, Stargazing and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Sky Notes for October 2013 with James Abbott #stargazing.

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