Would it take an act of Congress to get you out of bed in the morning to stargaze?
Ok! The Energy Policy Act of 2005, section 110, does not require you to rise and shine before sunrise, but daylight time makes sunrises really late, from 7am to almost 7:30am by the end of October. (As if the appearance of bright planets in our dawn skies wasn’t enough reason to get up and look out.)
Venus, the star Regulus, Mars and Jupiter, from top to bottom are lined up in the eastern sky – near where the sky first brightens before sunrise. Venus and Regulus appear to dance a do-si-do in the first full week of October, with the Moon swinging through on the 8th. Jupiter and Mars partner around the 15th; then Venus, Jupiter and Mars make a trio starting on the 17th. The grand finale is Jupiter and Venus’ close dance on the 25th and 26th, with Mars lingering just below waiting for Venus to fall into his arms at the end of the month. Mercury is bright, but low in the east, doing the celestial equivalent of running the coat check room for the last three weeks of October.
For your morning stargazing, you don’t need any optical aid the see the bright planet, but for a close-up look, bring out whatever optical aid is easiest to carry to a clear vantage point toward the east. Good binoculars set on a tripod or against a steady object will let you see Venus as a widening crescent, but shrinking in overall size. Jupiter’s moons are fascinating as well, but at their great distance across the solar system, they are more easily seen in a telescope. Try to get some wind-angle photos of the alignments. Here’s Venus (between the wires) with my Samsung smart phone’s camera. Any point and shoot camera on a tripod would do even better. Take a bunch of photos with different settings, see what looks best and try again!
In the evening’s prime time, Saturn lingers awhile, sitting in the smog and setting early, its rings tipped open toward us. When viewed with a telescope, Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and a nice double star stand nearby.