Think you can’t find planets, identify bright stars, or find constellations you may want to give this a try. No star maps, you just need to find the Moon. You might be surprised just how easy it is. The best times to look are 30 minutes after sunset or when the Moon in is the morning sky about an hour before sunrise.
This month (2013) the Moon will pass by the planets Mars, Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury. Saturn and Mercury will hug the western horizon at sunset for the first two weeks of the month before setting. The bright stars to see are Aldebaran, Arcturus, Antares, Altair, Vega, Deneb, Betelgeuse, Rigel, Procyon, Regulus, Formalhaut, and Sirius. This month we say goodbye to the constellation Libra in the evening sky and welcome Virgo in the morning sky.
This is set up for Aurora, Colorado. Things will be slightly different depending on your location, but will still work for finding the planets and bright stars.
Start observing 60 minutes before sunrise
On October 2-3 a thinning crescent moon swings below Regulus. On October 3 Mars, Regulus, and a very thin crescent moon form a vertical line.
On October 4 the Moon is new, rising and setting with the Sun. The Moon moves to the evening side of the Sun and will be difficult to see in the glare of the setting Sun for a few days.
Observe between 6:45pm and 7:00pm MDT
On October 6 will be a challenge. A very thin crescent moon will be just above Mercury very low on the western horizon in the glow of the sunset. Binoculars may be required. DO NOT USE BINOCULARS OR YOUR EYES UNTIL THE SUN HAS COMPLETELY SET (6:35pm MDT). The bright star Arcturus in the constellation of Bootes can be seen in the west.
Observe 30 to 60 minutes after sunset
On October 7 a thin crescent moon is in the constellation Libra the scales. There are no noticeably bright stars are in Libra. The bright “star” to the left of the Moon is Venus.
On October 10-11 the Moon is in the constellation Sagittarius the archer. Sagittarius points the way to the center of our galaxy, the Milky Way. Most amateur astronomers call Sagittarius the teapot. The pattern of stars, albeit somewhat faint, looks more like a teapot than an archer. On October 11 the Moon is at first quarter or a half moon. When the Moon is at first quarter it is approximately in same place in space as the Earth and you were 3.5 hours ago.
On October 12 the Moon is in Capricornus, the goat. There are no noticeably bright stars in Capricornus. Above the Moon overhead there are three bright stars that form a large triangle called the Summer Triangle. The three stars are Altair (lowest) in the constellation Aqulia the eagle and Vega (high and right) in Lyra the harp and Deneb (below and to the left of Vega) in Cygnus the swan. Deneb is the dimmest of the three, but the farthest away at 1700 light years. It burns 190,000 times brighter than the sun.
On October 13-14 a waxing gibbous moon is in the constellation Aquarius the water bearer. There are no noticeably bright stars are in Aquarius. The bright star below the Moon is Formalhaut in the constellation Piscis Austrinus, the southern fish.
On October 15-18 the Moon is in the constellation Pisces the fishes. There are no noticeably bright stars are in Pisces. The Moon is full on October 18 and moves to the morning side of the Sun. For more detailed information about this month’s full moon including names go here.
Start observing 60 minutes before sunrise
On October 19-20 the Moon moves to the constellation Aries, the ram. There are no noticeably bright stars are in Aries.
On October 21-23 the Moon is in the constellation Taurus the bull. On October 22 the Moon will be next to Aldebaran. On October 23 the Moon is on the right of the bright star Betelgeuse a red giant in the constellation of Orion. Below and a little left of Betelgeuse through the “three belt stars” is Rigel a blue giant. Going back to Betelgeuse, below and slightly left of Betelgeuse is Sirius, the Dog Star, in Canis Major the large dog. The bright star Procyon in Canis Minor is to the left of Betelgeuse and above Sirius. Above and almost overhead, Jupiter sits above the Moon and Procyon.
On October 25 the Moon is almost overhead in the constellation Gemini the twins and just below very bright Jupiter. The two somewhat bright stars above the Moon are Pollux (left) and Castor (right) the Gemini twins. Below and to the left the Moon is Procyon.
On October 26-27 the Moon is in the Cancer, the crab. There are no noticeably bright stars in Cancer. On October 26 the Moon is at third (or last) quarter. At this phase the Moon is approximately in the same place in space the Earth and you will be in 3.5 hours. Note how the Moon will thin and plunge toward the rising Sun in the next six days.
On October 28-30 the Moon is in the constellation of Leo the lion right back where we started at the beginning of the month. On October 29 Regulus (top), the Moon (lower right) and Mars (lower left) form a triangle.
On October 31 a waning crescent moon enters into the constellation Virgo the virgin.
Wishing you clear skies