NASA is back with its monthly update for fans of the night sky.
October promises to be an exciting month, with lots of interesting things to look out for. And you don’t even need a telescope or binoculars to get involved.
Highlights for October include the appearance of a harvest moon and a blue moon. Mars will also be bright in the night sky, and there are tips on viewing the faraway Andromeda galaxy, too.
First up, the moon. This month offers two full moons. The first one, the harvest moon, appears on October 1.
“The harvest moon is the name for the full moon that occurs closest to the September equinox — one of two days per year when day and night are of equal length,” NASA explains in a post on its website. “Most years the harvest moon falls in September, but every few years it shifts over to October. The name traces back to both Native American and European traditions related, not surprisingly, to harvest time.”
At the end of the month, on October 31, you’ll get to see the second full moon. When we have two full moons in a month, we usually call the second appearance a blue moon. This particular blue moon is rather special as it’s the only one this year — in other words, it’s the only two-full-moon month in 2020.
This month is also a great time to view Mars. The unique orbits of Earth and Mars brings the two planets to their closest points once every 26 months. This year we’ll come closest to Mars on October 6, with a distance of about 38.5 million miles (62 million kilometers) between us and the red planet. One week later, on October 13, the “Mars Opposition” will occur when Mars and the sun are on directly opposite sides of Earth. But you don’t have to wait until those dates to see Mars. Stick your head out of the window any evening this month and you should be able to spot it, with its distinctive salmon-pink color and brightness helping it to stand out. And as you gaze at it, remember that NASA’s Perseverance rover and Ingenuity helicopter are heading toward it at this very moment.
NASA also says this month is a great time to view Andromeda, a galaxy 2.5 million light-years from Earth that contains hundreds of billions of stars and possibly billions of planets. While a telescope would of course offer the best view of Andromeda, it’s also possible to see it with the naked eye if the conditions are right. Check out the video above to find out exactly where to look.