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Skywatch: Jupiter, king of the planets, rises into a luminous reign

As the leaves fall, enjoy how planets ascend: At sunset now, find Jupiter — the king of the planets — ascending the eastern sky and reigning in a luminous way. The large, gaseous planet appears above the treetops around 7:30 p.m. and can be seen stationed near the constellation Pisces.

Jupiter remains bright even after its official opposition (opposite the sun from Earth’s perspective) on Sept. 26. Now it is a brilliant -2.9 magnitude, according to the U.S. Naval Observatory. By midnight early in October, find this majestic planet due south. It dims slightly toward the end of the month.

Saturn — our solar system’s other large gaseous planet — now rises in the late afternoon, ahead of Jupiter, and loiters near the goat shape of Capricornus. In early October, the ringed planet rules at +0.5 magnitude, which is bright enough to see in a city sky. By sunset, it is roughly 30 degrees above the horizon and due south by 10 p.m.

The always-popular Mars rises now in the east-northeast around 10 p.m. very early in October, but you may spot Earth’s reddish neighbor later in the evening hanging out near the horns of Taurus. The planet marches toward its own opposition in December and grows brighter from our Earthly perspective.

Mars started 2022 dim at +1.5 magnitude, according to the observatory, but has inched toward brilliance all year. Mars appears at -0.7 magnitude (bright) during the first week in October and continues to dazzle. By early November, the Red Planet becomes noticeably brighter at -1.4 magnitude.

Like a pesky little sibling, the moon follows the planets around the heavens in the evening throughout this month. Look to the south Oct. 4-5, when the first quarter moon cruises past Saturn, according to the observatory. Our lunar buddy approaches Jupiter on Oct. 7 and closely skids by on Oct. 8. The full moon is Oct. 9 and the waning gibbous moon approaches Mars on Oct. 13 and glides by the planet on Oct. 14 and 15.

Venus reaches superior conjunction (hidden by the sun’s glare) and (barely) emerges from its autumnal vacation in December.

The Orionids meteor shower is expected to peak on the night of Oct. 21-22, according to the American Meteor Society. At 20 shooting stars an hour at the peak, that’s a normal rate for the shower. Gazers may see a handful of shooting stars.

Meteors occur when Earth — on its annual trip around the sun — strikes the dusty trails of comets gone by. The dust and tiny pebbles smack our atmosphere and burn, providing us a show. The parent comet for the Orionids is an old, historical friend: Halley.

Nature presents a partial solar eclipse on Oct. 25, but it will be visible only in Europe, northeast Africa, the Middle East and western Asia, according to eclipse expert Fred Espenak, who runs the website EclipseWise.com.

Down-to-Earth Events:

* Oct. 7 — Learn about the Sept. 26 impact of DART, the Double Asteroid Redirection Test, in a lecture on protecting Earth from out-of-this-world impacts. The speakers will be Andrew Cheng and Andrew Rivkin, both from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University. The scientists were co-leaders of the DART mission. Hosted by PSW Science. 8 p.m., Powell Auditorium at the Cosmos Club, 2121 Massachusetts Ave. NW in D.C. Information: pswscience.org. Register for the in-person lecture: shorturl.at/ARU48. (Masks and proof of coronavirus vaccine mandatory.) Register for Zoom webinar: shorturl.at/BIZ17. Lecture will be carried live on YouTube: shorturl.at/DMSW9.

* Oct. 8 — “Multi-messenger Astronomy,” a talk by Rita Sambrunna, deputy director of astrophysics at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, at the regular meeting of the National Capital Astronomers. 7:30 p.m. To access the online meeting, visit: capitalastronomers.org.

* Oct. 9 — “The Birth of Supermassive Black Holes,” a talk by Jenny Greene, a professor of astrophysical sciences at Princeton, discussing how these cosmic beasts form. While Greene will lecture virtually, members and guests are welcome in person at the Northern Virginia Astronomy Club meeting, Room 3301, Exploratory Hall, George Mason University, Fairfax, Va. 7:30 p.m. Info: novac.com. Remote meeting detail: shorturl.at/AQ069.

* Oct. 29 — Bright planets are featured at “Astronomy for Everyone” at Sky Meadows State Park in Fauquier County, Va. NASA Jet Propulsion Lab ambassadors provide an astronomy program, while Northern Virginia Astronomy Club members will offer telescopic views. 6-9 p.m. GPS: 11012 Edmonds Lane, Delaplane, Va., 20144. Info: novac.com. Park fee: $10.

Blaine Friedlander can be reached at SkyWatchPost@gmail.com.

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