This Week's Night Sky: Planets Align With Moon and Star

Skywatchers wait to see if this year’s Draconid meteor shower will be a boom or bust.

Beehive buzzes by the moon. In the early dawn hours on Tuesday, October 6, skywatchers can use the moon to find the Beehive star cluster (Messier 44) nearby. This open cluster lies in the heart of the zodiacal constellation Cancer in the southeastern sky.

This cluster is one of the closest to our Sun, sitting at 610 light-years distant. Seen with the naked eye in dark skies, the Beehive appears as a nebulous mass. Through binoculars or telescopes, though, the cluster reveals itself as a loose grouping of sparkling stars.

Moon leads to ancient star cluster. The moon shows the way to another open cluster in the predawn hours on Wednesday, October 7. The crescent moon will now be parked next to Messier 67, which contains hundreds of geriatric stars that are believed to be at least 3.2 billion years old. Only a few open clusters are older than M67, but none are closer to Earth.

Quintuple threat. Five bright objects come together for a beautiful grouping on the morning of Thursday, October 8. As the moon wanes and forms a crescent shape, it will meet up with Earth’s sister planet, Venus, hanging just to its left. Our red neighbor Mars will be a little farther away, about the width of a fist held at arm’s length. Meanwhile, Jupiter, the king of planets, will be holding court 13 degrees away from the moon, about the distance between your pinky and index fingers at arm’s length.

There’s one more treat in store: The brilliant star Regulus will be just to the upper right of Venus, completing the group. While this blue-white star sits 79 light-years distant from our sun, it shines brightly, giving Jupiter a little competition in the night sky.

The dragon’s shower. Keen skywatchers will want to stay up late on Thursday to catch a glimpse of the Draconid meteor shower in the hours after sunset.

A little temperamental in nature, the Draconids are scant in some years and plentiful in others, such as 2012, when viewers recorded up to a thousand meteors per hour. This strange shower derives its name from the constellation Draco, the dragon, and lies in northwestern skies. Take a look in that general area and you might be able to make a wish on a falling star.

Sliver moon greets Mercury. As the sun rises in the east on Sunday, October 11, watch as the thin moon passes Mercury by an apparent distance of 1 degree (the width of a pinky at arm’s length). The pair will be a challenge to see, but look for them with binoculars about an hour before sunrise as twilight bleeds into day.

Although they are 48 million miles apart, these two celestial bodies are similar in many ways. They are both roughly the same size and are pocked with craters on their rocky surfaces. It’s wonderful to see these “twins” so visibly close in our sky this morning.

Clear skies!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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