Join the hunt for red Mars in October.
That bright-red object you see in the east is our good friend Mars putting on a show. Mars climbs the northeast horizon about 9 p.m. to start the month, appearing at negative 1.7 magnitude (bright), making it easily visible from the city. Mars is due south about 3:45 a.m.
This friendly, neighboring planet will be rising earlier and becoming easier to see. By mid-October, Mars rises in the northeast just before 8 p.m. By Halloween, after we turn back our clocks, the red planet starts its night at 5:30 p.m. The planet reaches negative 2.3 magnitude (very bright) at the month's end.
On Oct. 29, Mars arrives at its closest point to Earth since the 2003 visit, making this the planet's closest excursion to Earth until 2018. Telescope owners may want to hunt for Phobos and Deimos, the two Martian moons discovered by Asaph Hall at the U.S. Naval Observatory in 1877.
Early in October, Saturn enters the sky about 2 a.m., and by midmonth it rises about 1 a.m. Find the ringed, zero magnitude (bright) planet in the Cancer constellation throughout the month.
As effervescent as ever, Venus loiters in the southwest sky at dusk for about an hour now. This negative fourth magnitude planet blazes as bright as a distant jumbo jet with its landing lights at full intensity. Venus remains in the southwestern sky throughout October.
Forget about Jupiter and Mercury, as both planets are hard to find in the sun's glare this time of year.
Eclipses Around the World European and African sky gazers can see an annular solar eclipse Oct. 3, while Australians, East Asians and those living in western North America can glimpse a shallow partial lunar eclipse Oct. 17.
About the Seasons Halfway between the autumnal equinox (Sept. 22) and the winter solstice (Dec. 21) is what astronomers call a cross-quarter day. Old civilizations marked cross-quarter days with what we now consider minor holidays. Traditionally, Halloween marks the halfway point of fall, although the accurate cross-quarter day this year is Nov. 6, according to the Naval Observatory.
Oct. 1 -- The Northern Virginia Astronomy Club hosts its 23rd annual Star Gaze. In the afternoon, learn about astronomy. At night, enjoy the heavens through different telescopes and binoculars. At C.M. Crockett Park in Fauquier County. 3 to 11 p.m. Information: novac.com.
Oct. 1 -- Physicist Theodore Jacobson explains "The Expansion of the Universe" at the National Capital Astronomers meeting, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. 7:30 p.m. Information: capitalastronomers.org.
Oct. 4 -- Space scientist Jim Manning lectures on "Mars: Opposition Attraction" at the Space Telescope Science Institute's auditorium, Johns Hopkins University campus, Baltimore. 8 p.m. Information: 410-338-4700; hubblesite.org/about_us/public-talks.shtml.
Oct. 4 -- Meet the pilot of the famed Bell X-1 Glamorous Glennis aircraft, the first plane to break the sound barrier, in "An Evening With Chuck Yeager" at the Smithsonian National Air and Space Museum, Lockheed Martin IMAX Theater, along the Mall. 8 p.m. Free, but tickets required. Information: 202-633-1000; www.nasm.si.edu.
Oct. 5 -- Astronomy open house, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Gaze the heavens through a telescope afterward, weather permitting. 9 p.m. Information: 301-405-6555; www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
Oct. 8 -- Tour the real heavens with astronomer Sean O'Brien of the National Air and Space Museum at Sky Meadows State Park, near Paris, Va. 6:45 to 11 p.m. Parking $4. Information: 540-592-3556; www.dcr.state.va.us/parks/skymeado.htm.
Oct. 8 -- See stars from the city as the National Capital Astronomers and the National Park Service host "Exploring the Sky" at Rock Creek Park, near the Nature Center in the field south of Military and Glover roads NW. 8 p.m. Information: 202-895-6070; capitalastronomers.org; nps.gov/rocr.
Oct. 15 -- Find out how polarization sundials work when clouds cover the sky at the Montgomery College Planetarium, Takoma Park. Parking available in the faculty lot. 7 p.m. Information: 301-650-1463; montgomerycollege.edu/departments/planet.
Oct. 20 -- Astronomer Andrew Baker asks and answers the question "How old is the universe?" at the astronomy open house, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Sky viewing afterward, weather permitting. 9 p.m. Information: 301-405-6555; www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.
Oct. 29 -- The sun, moon, planets and stars sometimes disappear. Just in time for Halloween, learn about astronomical occultations in the talk "The Real Occult" at the Montgomery College Planetarium, Takoma Park. Parking available in the faculty lot. 7 p.m. Information: 301-650-1463; montgomerycollege.edu/departments/planet.
Blaine Friedlander can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.