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Rising and Setting Planets and Comet News

October 2012 CometThe planets are sticking close to the horizon during prime viewing hours for most of October, making them more of a challenge to see. After sunset on October evenings, look to the left of where the sun was to catch Mars (and maybe even Saturn) low on the horizon. Saturn is sinking and joining the sun, where it reaches conjunction toward the end of the month, but the Red Planet will stay just above the horizon for the rest of the year. On October 1, Mars will be in Libra, heading toward the claws of Scorpius.

The moon can guide you to some of the planets in mid-October. Try spotting Mercury on October 16 and 17. Mercury shines at magnitude -0.1, making it brighter than Mars, but its location closer to the sun leaves it in the sunset’s bright glow as the evening begins. On October 16, Mercury is just to the upper left of the slender crescent moon. On October 17, the moon is between Mercury (to the moon's lower right) and Mars (to the moon's upper left). On October 18, the crescent moon will lie to the upper left of magnitude 1.2 Mars, with the Red Planet’s reddish rival Antares (the Anti-Ares) shining a bit brighter at magnitude 1.0 just below Mars.

On the opposite horizon later in the evening you can spot Jupiter rising. Look east-northeast to find Jupiter in the constellation Taurus. The largest planet is making its way toward the V-shaped Hyades star cluster. On October 5, the moon will lie just below Jupiter. For the rest of the year, Jupiter will rise a bit earlier until it reaches opposition in December, rising as the sun sets. Use a telescope to spot the four Galilean satellites of Jupiter. (So-named because the satellites were large enough for Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei to detect through his early telescope.) Amateur astronomers got a surprise this summer while peering at Jupiter through a telescope when an undiscovered asteroid hit the planet, revealed by the flash of a bright explosion in Jupiter's atmosphere.

For those who are awake before the sun in October, you won't miss Venus as it shines like a spotlight in the morning sky. Make a special note to look for Venus on the morning of October 3, when it skims past the star Regulus in Leo. On October 12, find the moon in Venus’s vicinity.

The Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak of activity on Saturday, October 20, and Sunday, October 21. Up to 20 meteors an hour are possible, and the best viewing window occurs after midnight. The Orionid meteor shower is debris left behind by Halley’s comet as it passed Earth’s orbit.

A recently discovered comet, named C/2012 S1 ISON, is expected to become visible without a telescope in the fall of 2013. Current predictions say that this comet has the possibility to become a once-in-a-lifetime dazzler, shining brighter than the full moon and visible in daylight. Only time will tell if Comet ISON lives up to predictions.

October's full moon is the Hunter's Moon, which lands on October 29 at 2:50 p.m. EDT. On Halloween night, the moon will rise a little after sunset at about 95-percent lit, just a bit ahead of Jupiter.

Photo: A new comet may blaze bright a year from now. Credit: Adam Brouwer.

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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