The October Night Skies

“Sun and moon, bow down before him, Dwellers all in time and space”*

Hello again everyone! October means that the nights are drawing in in earnest now and our night skies are busier than ever!  This month sees some of my favourite objects in the sky which represent some of the strangest and most exotic places in creation, so with no further ado let’s jump in!

Jupiter and the Galilean Moons:

Keep an eye on the South Eastern horizon after 8.00PM to spot Jupiter.  With a good pair of binoculars, you might even be able to spot one or more of the Galilean Moons: Io, Callisto, Europa and Ganymede.  Jupiter itself is difficult to describe in terms of its sheer size – it is less of a planet and more of a dwarf star!  

Jupiter will be moving into its closest point in its orbit to Earth this month so it will be unmistakably bright in the sky.  Jupiter itself is a behemoth, its volume large enough to fit Earth 1300 times, and its glowering red eye (a massive hurricane system) could comfortably fit the Earth alone!  There isn’t enough space in this blog to write about all of the fascinating properties of Jupiter, but this astronomer’s imagination is always fired up by theories of the superheated ice at Jupiter’s core or learning about the varied landscapes of its moons.


Not to be outdone, Saturn is still in our skies although it is starting to fade.  Considerably smaller than Jupiter (“only” 764 Earths would fit inside), Saturn does of course have the distinction of it’s beautiful ring system, which may be visible with binoculars.  A favourite Saturn fact of mine is that if you could find a bath tub large enough, its low density means that the planet would float!

Pleiades Star Cluster:

Another favourite object of mine that is visible this month is the Pleiades star cluster (also known as The Seven Sisters or M45 if you’re feeling scientific).  Look for Orion’s belt and follow the line upwards and you will see the hazy patch that is the Pleiades.  Those with reasonable eyesight will be able to see six stars with the naked eye (leading to legends of the “lost sister”) but it is best observed with a medium powered telescope or pair of binoculars to see the full spectacle of over 1,000 stars in such a (comparatively) small patch of space!  English clergyman, John Michell, calculated that the odds of this cluster forming were approximately 1 in 500,000, and gravitational forces from surrounding stars mean that the cluster is slowly drifting apart. With only about 250 million years left before it becomes unrecognisable as a cluster, best to get out there and see them quick!

See you again next month for darker skies as we enter winter!


The title of this post is taken from the lyrics of the favourite hymn, Praise my soul, the King of Heaven.
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    Feature Image: Church of good Shepherd, lake Tekapo, stargazing view, New Zealand South island, Wikicommons.
    Jupiter, ESA/Hubble, creativecommons, Wikimedia Commons
    Saturn with her Rings, European Space Agency, creativecommons, Wikimedia Commons
    Jupiter and the Galilian Moons, Public Domain, WikiCommons

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