Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the night sky throughout October

NASA is urging stargazers to enjoy ‘evenings with giants’ this month — as the massive planets Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the night sky for the next few weeks.

Early in the evening, you’ll find them to the southeast, moving slowly westward with the stars over the course of the night.

‘They form a triangle with bright star Fomalhaut,’ the US space agency explained on its website.

‘When observing this trio, note how the planets shine with a steady light, while the stars twinkle. This can be an easy way to know if what you’re looking at is a planet or a star.’

At the end of last month, astronomers revealed that Jupiter would appear at its biggest and brightest in decades, as it made its closest approach to Earth in 59 years.

It is still some 367 million miles away from us, but not since October 1963 have stargazers had such a great opportunity to spot it in the night sky.

Lookup! NASA is urging stargazers to enjoy ‘evenings with giants’ this month — as the massive planets Jupiter and Saturn will be visible in the night sky for the next few weeks. ‘They form a triangle with bright star Fomalhaut,’ the US space agency explained on its website

Astronomers may also be able to spot the retrograde motion of Mars this month.  The sky chart above shows the path of the Red Planet over several months in 2022 and 2023 as it enters, then exits, retrograde motion

Astronomers may also be able to spot the retrograde motion of Mars this month. The sky chart above shows the path of the Red Planet over several months in 2022 and 2023 as it enters, then exits, retrograde motion

JUPITER: THE BASICS

Jupiter is the fifth planet from the Sun and the largest in our solar system.

It is a massive ball of gas that is made mostly of hydrogen and helium, with some heavy elements.

‘Jupiter’s familiar stripes and swirls are actually cold, windy clouds of ammonia and water, floating in an atmosphere of hydrogen and helium,’ said NASA.

‘Jupiter’s iconic Great Red Spot is a giant storm bigger than Earth that has raged for hundreds of years.’

The planet is twice as large as all of the other planet’s combined, and the Great Red Spot alone is large enough to fit the entire Earth insidee.

One spacecraft – NASA’s Juno orbiter – is currently exploring this giant world.

Facts and figures

Distance from Sun: 750 million km

orbital period: 12 years

Surface area: 61.42 billion km²

radius: 69.911km

dimensions: 1,898 × ​​10^27 kg (317.8 M⊕)

Length of day: 0d 9h 56m

moons: 53 with formal designations; innumerable additional moonlets

The gas giant came closest to Earth in almost 60 years on September 25, and 24 hours later reached opposition, meaning the planet appeared opposite the sun to those on Earth.

The planet’s closest approach to Earth hardly ever coincides with opposition, which NASA said meant that this year’s views would be ‘extraordinary’.

The overlap of the two events, which will not take place again until 2139, means that Jupiter will appear brighter and larger in the sky for the next few weeks.

When it comes to other celestial sights this month, Mars has been steadily working its way toward the east all year like it usually does, relative to the background stars.

But at the end of October, the Red Planet halts this apparent motion, and then appears to reverse course.

Over the next three months, from November to late January, the planet moves toward the west each night, then near the end of January it reverses direction again and continues its eastward journey.

This is what is called the retrograde motion of Mars, NASA said.

‘It happens about every two years, and it really threw early observers for a loop,’ the US space agency wrote.

‘That Mars appears to change its direction is an illusion caused by the motions of our planet in its orbit passing by the Red Planet in its orbit.’

Earth and Mars are on roughly circular paths around the sun, like cars on a racetrack, but our planet Earth is on the inner, faster track.

About every 26 months, we overtake Mars, which is moving slower in its orbit. During that period when we’re passing Mars, and before we round the bend in our orbit to pull away from it, we see Mars in retrograde, appearing to change direction, even though it’s still moving forward in its orbit.

Amateur astronomers have been told to take note of how Mars’ position changes with respect to Betelgeuse, Aldebaran and the Pleiades over the weeks.

NASA added: ‘You’ll be witnessing what was once a source of intense curiosity for astronomers, but which we now know is just a sign of two planets passing in the night.’

At the end of last month, astronomers revealed that Jupiter would appear at its biggest and brightest in decades, as it made its closest approach to Earth in 59 years

At the end of last month, astronomers revealed that Jupiter would appear at its biggest and brightest in decades, as it made its closest approach to Earth in 59 years

Stargazing: Early in the evening, you'll find Jupiter and Saturn (shown) to the southeast of the sky, moving slowly westward with the stars over the course of the night

Stargazing: Early in the evening, you’ll find Jupiter and Saturn (shown) to the southeast of the sky, moving slowly westward with the stars over the course of the night

The Orionid meteor shower is also active throughout October and November, and peaks on the night of October 20.

It is a moderate shower, usually producing 10-20 meteors per hour at its peak, under clear, dark skies.

The bad news is that this year the moon will be about 20 per cent full on the peak nights, so it will interfere a bit when it rises a couple of hours before dawn.

However, it shouldn’t completely spoil the view.

The shower’s name comes from the fact that you can trace the paths of its meteors back to an area on the sky near Orion.

These meteors are fragments of dust left behind by Comet Halley in a trail that extends along its orbit. They tend to be bright and fast moving, and they often leave persistent trails that can glow in the sky for a few seconds after they streak by.

No special equipment is needed to observe meteor showers.

‘Just make sure you’re warm enough, and viewing from a safe, dark spot away from bright lights. Then all you have to do is look up and enjoy the show,’ the US space agency said.

SATURN: THE BASICS

Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second largest planet in our solar system after Jupiter.

It is regarded as the ‘jewel of the solar system’ with its sunning rings.

It is not the only planet to have rings but none are as spectacular or as complicated as Saturn’s.

Like Jupiter, Saturn is a massive ball made mostly of hydrogen and helium, with some heavy elements.

Its core stretches out to cover 60 per cent of the radius of the world.

It is similar to the rest of the planet, but made of a ‘slush’ like material of gasses, metallic fluids, rock and ice.

The farthest planet from Earth discovered by the naked eye, Saturn has been known since ancient times.

The planet is named for the Roman god of agriculture and wealth, who was also the father of Jupiter.

While planet Saturn is an unlikely place for living things to take hold, the same is not true of some of its many moons.

Satellites like Enceladus and Titan, home to internal oceans, could possibly support life.

Facts and figures

Distance from Sun: 1.434 billion km

orbital period: 29 years

Surface area: 42.7 billion km²

radius: 58.232 km

dimensions: 5,683 × 10^26 kg (95.16 M⊕)

Length of day: 0d 10h 42m

moons: 82 with formal designations; innumerable additional moonlets

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