October always ends with Halloween, which might not be my favorite holiday strictly as holidays go. It isn’t special to me for all of the usual reasons (pumpkins, costumes, trick-or-treating, candy, etc), but is still one that I look forward to every year – especially if we have clear skies and bright objects to look at!
If the conditions are favorable, we always bring out the telescopes and binoculars to the sidewalk and let people look through them as we hand out candy. This year the astronomical forecast is pretty good for the early evening of October 31st.
We might be able to spot a very, very thin crescent moon for a short while after sunset. As of 18:30 that evening the moon will be only one day, eight hours past the new moon, but that might be possible.
Even if we can’t seen the moon due to the hills and trees to the west, Saturn and Venus should be up for an hour or so after sunset. Venus will be an easy target and will show a crescent – always good for a bit of quick astronomy to prove to the little ghosts and goblins that there are things they can see with their own eyes to prove that we are on a planet, one of many, going around a star, and so on. It really helps to make the universe, astronomy, and physics real to them.
Saturn is also always popular with the rings and all. The tough part on Halloween is keeping it on the planet with a decent magnification eyepiece in there. 99% of the people looking through the telescope haven’t ever done it before and have no idea how it works, so they tend to grab on and yank it toward themselves, not realizing that it’s pointing very, very accurately and they just ruined that accuracy. That’s one of the reasons we like to find big, bright objects like the moon – they’re really easy to re-find and re-align the telescope on.
Even after Venus and Saturn set we’ll have Mars up in the west for a couple of hours. It’s not quite as spectacular as Venus, Jupiter, or Saturn, but kids are a lot more familiar with it since they can see pictures from Opportunity or Curiosity any time they want online.
Almost directly overhead there are a couple of nice globular clusters in Cygnus and Lyra. The Ring Nebula is also in Lyra, nearly at the zenith, but in the light-polluted skies of LA it’s a bit of a stretch.
What should be a piece of cake, even in binoculars, is the Andromeda Nebula. In a dark sky it’s a naked eye object and it’s up nice and high in the sky at the end of October, so I’m hoping we can get one of the scopes on it all night long. We should also be able to see the Beehive Cluster in Cancer.
Later in the evening, closer to 22:00, we’ll be getting the Pleiades rising in the east. Orion has a lot of good targets but it won’t rise until after 23:00, by which time the little folk should all be in bed.
One last thing to watch for as we get closer to the night will be any ISS passes overhead. Even if we don’t get ISS, the Hubble Space Telescope is fairly bright, as are several other satellites. We’ll see what we can see.
Now we just need some clear skies!