As we shake off the winter chills, October provides us with the last opportunity to observe the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, between the constellations Scorpius (scorpion) and Sagittarius (archer). By mid-month, the bright red star Antares (the red ‘heart’ of the scorpion) will set a few hours after sunset, just as the Southern Cross starts to dip below the southern horizon.
In the south, the Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC, a neighboring galaxy) looms over the constellation Mensa. This faint group of stars, identified by the French astronomer N.L. de Lacaille in the mid-18th century, was named after Table Mountain in Cape Town as the LMC reminded him of the mountain’s occasional cloud cover. Further east, the longest constellation Eridanus (river) winds its way from the bright blue star Achenar down to the eastern horizon, and Pegasus (winged horse) begins to stride in from the north-east.
Now is your chance to test out the phrase ‘once in a blue moon’ (meaning very rarely), as there will be two full moons this month: the first on 1 October and a rare second one, also known as a monthly ‘Blue Moon’ on 31 October (‘Blue Moon’ does not refer to its color). Venus is brightly visible in the morning, and Saturn and Jupiter are bright evening planets setting just after midnight. Mars can be seen for most of the evening.