Yukon Planetary Cavalcade

The dominant planet in the evening sky is fascinating Jupiter. Located in the early-evening southern sky, it is easily recognizable because it is simply the brightest object in the sky.

This giant of the solar system always has something for everyone to see. Even with binoculars you can see four of her orbiting moons. In a small telescope, two or three cloud belts are visible from a dark observing sight. In larger telescopes, multiple cloud bands and their subtle colour shadings and the giant red spot are seen.

Venus is the dominant morning planet shining brightly in the pre-dawn eastern sky. In binoculars, this planet looks like a piercing bright light, but, in a telescope, the view changes. Venus has phases like our moon; very cool to see. As for detail, there is none to be seen even in a telescope.

Also found in the eastern morning sky is the red planet, Mars. In the month of October, Mars moves from the constellation of Gemini into Cancer. Still riding close to the horizon, Mars always presents an enjoyable viewing experience.

The ruddy blood-coloured planet will begin to show its colour in binoculars and makes for great photographs, especially with an excellent foreground scene like an old snow-covered fence or barn.

When Mars rises a little higher off the horizon, it becomes every amateur astronomer’s favourite planet because Mars is the only planet where you can actually see surface detail.

Martian deserts spread over the surface that has an orange, dusty colour and, of course, we must not forget about the Valles Marineris: a huge network of canyons that spans an area of 3,862 kilometres and in some places is 8,839 metres deep. We cannot see into these great canyons, but we can see the surface detail. Very cool.

Every two years or so, at this time, I receive a massive number of e-mails and phone calls in regards to a rather odd planetary event. Someone keeps sending an e-mail stating that Mars will soon be as big as a full moon. This is not true in every sense of the word.

Even in my largest telescope, a 14-inch Dobsononian, Mars appears about the same size as your baby fingernail. For some reason no one knows where this elusive e-mail comes from and what purpose it serves.

On Oct. 16, in the early morning hours around 6 or 7 a.m., you will have a rare opportunity to see three planets joined by a crescent moon. The brightest planet, Venus, followed by Saturn and Mercury, rest a little more than a binocular field above the eastern morning horizon.

It makes an impressive photograph in any camera. Because these planets are so close to the horizon, the view through a telescope will be fair at best. The preferred choice of telescopes for viewing planets this close to the horizon will be the apochromatic refractor.

In the Yukon Night Skies, on Oct. 18, there is a new moon. It is a challenge to be able to see the new moon at its earliest. Sometimes only a sliver of a moon can be seen and the youngest new moon that I have seen is about 16 hours old. It is always an excellent sight, and the view can be enjoyed in binoculars or a telescope.

On Oct. 20, the annual Orionid meteor shower takes place. This year, our view of this meteor shower will not be hampered by moonlight. We should be able to see a few meteors around midnight, and more as morning approaches.

Because the meteors appear to come from the club in the constellation of Orion, sighting of meteors will increase after 2 a.m. or so as Orion rises above the eastern horizon. If you have a good dark observing sight you may see up to 20 meteors per hour sailing through those amazing Yukon Night Skies.

Observing meteors is one of the simplest and easiest cosmic events that anyone can enjoy. You don’t need a telescope or even binoculars as meteor showers are best viewed with the unaided eye.

I highly recommend that you take a lawn chair and face it toward the eastern horizon and bundle up in a parka, a warm hat and gloves. Don’t forget the coffee or hot chocolate, which helps fight fatigue and keeps you warm. You might also bring a logbook and keep track of how many meteors you see and at what time.

Now, if you want to take pictures for a more visual record, I suggest a digital SLR camera with a fast wide-angle lens like a 28-mm F2.8 or F3.5 lens. Set the ISO to 800 and leave the shutter open for 30 seconds at a time and, if you are lucky, you may get a fantastic picture of a meteor racing across the sky.

The first quarter moon offers an excellent opportunity for viewing on Oct. 25. This is one of the best times to do high-power viewing because there is not an overabundance of moonlight. As always, binoculars, spotting scopes and telescopes can let one see lunar mountains, craters and lunar seas.

Jupiter and the moon are only three degrees apart in the evening sky on Oct. 26. This will be an excellent view through binoculars because you will be able to see the moon and Jupiter at the same time in your binoculars. A pair of 10×50 binoculars has about a five-degree field of view, so with a little extra field of view it should present an eye-watering 3D view.

We have saved the best for last: on Oct. 30, a special treat for all those who own a telescope or binoculars. After midnight on the 30th and on Nov. 1, the planet Mars will be sailing past the Beehive star cluster in the constellation known as the Cancer, in the eastern night sky.

This is an opportunity to see a planet and a deep sky object at the same time, in the same field of view. This star cluster has about 20 bright stars and will make for a memorable sight as the red planet Mars sails on by.

And, yes, this an excellent photo opportunity, especially if you have a good telephoto lens and a tracking telescope mount.

October promises to be a busy month for amateur astronomers and stargazers in the Yukon, so take some time, a recent copy of Sky News and head outside to see those amazing Yukon Night Skies. Bring your parka, gloves, toque and coffee; in case you haven’t noticed, it is getting a little frosty out at night.

Clear Skies from James “Deep Sky” Cackette.

High Lights

James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.

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