Each week I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy and eclipses.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: October 12-18, 2020
This week it’s all about Mars, which will look its biggest, brightest and best in post-sunset skies since 2018 and, technically speaking, since 2003.
However, it’s also a week where the Moon wanes towards its New phase, meaning dark skies at night, gorgeous crescents in the early pre-dawn mornings early in the week, and in early evenings from Sunday.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020: Mars at opposition
Tonight the red planet reaches opposition, a moment when the Earth is between it and the Sun. It’s therefore at its biggest and brightest. It’s also visible all night, rising at dusk in the easy and setting at dawn in the west.
The opposition of Mars happens roughly every two years, though technically speaking, Mars is tonight bigger and brighter than at any time since 2003.
Wednesday, October 14, 2020: Crescent Moon and Venus
Look east about an hour before sunrise this morning and you’ll see the glorious sight of a very bright 76%-illuminated planet Venus shining 4.3° above a delicate 1% illuminated crescent Moon.
Such a Moon is often called “the New Moon in the Old Moon’s arms.” You may see “Earthshine” on the Moon’s darkened limb. That’s sunlight being reflected off Earth and onto the Moon. It’s always there, but only when the Moon is a slender crescent can human eyes discern it.
Look above Venus and you’ll also see Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation of Leo.
Friday, October 16, 2020: New Moon and ‘Supermoon’
Although this isn’t something anyone can see—after all, a New Moon is lost in the Sun’s glare—our satellite will start anew today at 19:31 Universal Time.
It happens just a few hours after the Moon reaches its monthly perigee—the closest it comes to Earth on its slightly elliptical orbit—making this invisible New Moon a “supermoon.” Expect big tides.
Constellation of the week: Cassiopeia
High in the northeast after dark is the constellation of Cassiopeia, the queen. It’s circumpolar, meaning it revolves around Polaris, the North Star. It’s thus almost always visible, and at this time of year it’s high in the sky right after dark.
It sits virtually opposite the Big Dipper, which is now low on the horizon after dark.
Straddling the Milky Way in a rich area of starry sky, Cassiopeia is made-up principally of five bright stars—all of them easily visible to the naked eye even in light-polluted skies—that together make a “W” shape. Or an “M” shape. Or a chair shape. You decide!
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.