The Stars: October

A comet is coming to sky near you, later this month.

It won’t be a brilliant sight – but we can expect a stunning view of the action from a recycled spacecraft. The story began in 1986, when British astronomer Malcolm Hartley was scanning a photograph of the sky taken by a sky-camera – the UK Schmidt Telescope – in New South Wales, Australia. Among the images of stars, nebulae and galaxies, Hartley spotted a smudge that shouldn’t have been there.

It was a comet, an icy lump of rock traipsing around the Solar System named Comet Hartley 2 (comets are named after their discoverer, and this was Hartley’s second). A mile across, the comet caught Hartley’s eye because it was sweeping close to the Sun’s heat, and its ices were boiling into a fuzzy cocoon of steam and dust. Hartley’s comet swings around the Sun every six years, in an elongated orbit, and its next close approach to the Sun is on 28 October. That’s when its erupting jets of steam and dust will be most active. Coincidentally, Comet Hartley 2 passes unusually close to the Earth on 20 October. As a result, we’ll get to see the comet in our night sky, just visible to the naked eye.

We’ve marked the comet’s position on the chart at 5-day intervals. But don’t hold your breath, as the light of the Moon will tend to drown out the faint and fuzzy comet. You’ll be best waiting until the wee small hours of the morning when the Moon has set and Comet Hartley 2 is much higher in the sky. If you’re not sure it it the comet you are seeing, then binoculars should show it up clearly. And if moonlight, streetlight, the British weather or the need for sleep deprive you of a view, then watch the news. A Nasa spaceprobe – originally used to fire at massive probe at Comet Tempel 1 – is homing in on the comet, and already sending back pictures.

What's Up

“Star” of the month is the planet Jupiter, shining brilliantly in the south. It is still holding centre-stage in the heavens, having just passed its closest approach to Earth for 47 years. Unlike Jupiter, the stars are putting on a pretty poor show in October. At this stage in Earth’s orbit , we face the “bare” constellations of Pegasus and princess Andromeda, along with the faint, “wet” star patterns of Cetus (the whale), Pisces (the fishes), Aquarius (the water-bearer) and Capricornus (the sea-goat). But one star is making a bid for glory. In the last week of the month, the red star Mira (in Cetus) may achieve prominence. This distended star has difficulty controlling its waistline, and changes in brightness as it swells and shrinks. By the end of October, it could rival the Pole Star in the sky.

Diary

1: 4.52am Moon at Last Quarter

7: 7.44pm New Moon

14: 10.27pm Moon at First Quarter

21-31: Mira at maximum

23: 2.36am Full Moon

30: 1.46pm Moon at Last Quarter

News
peopleFrankie Boyle responds to referendum result in characteristically offensive style
News
news
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special
tvNick Frost, Natalie Gumede and Michael Troughton step up
Arts and Entertainment
Matthew Beard, Ben Schnetzer, Douglas Booth and Jack Farthing in ‘The Riot Club’
filmReview: Sheer nastiness of Riot Club takes you aback
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Research Manager - Quantitative/Qualitative

£32000 - £42000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is curr...

Senior Research Executive - Quantitative/Qualitative

£27000 - £31000 Per Annum Excellent Benefits: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd:...

ETL Developer / Consultant

£300 - £350 Per Day: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently ...

DT Teacher, Full time supply role, Maidstone school

Competitive Salary: Randstad Education Group: We urgently require an experienc...

Day In a Page

Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments
These Iranian-controlled Shia militias used to specialise in killing American soldiers. Now they are fighting Isis, backed up by US airstrikes

Widespread fear of Isis is producing strange bedfellows

Iranian-controlled Shia militias that used to kill American soldiers are now fighting Isis, helped by US airstrikes
Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Topshop goes part Athena poster, part last spring Prada

Shoppers don't come to Topshop for the unique
How to make a Lego masterpiece

How to make a Lego masterpiece

Toy breaks out of the nursery and heads for the gallery
Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Meet the ‘Endies’ – city dwellers who are too poor to have fun

Urbanites are cursed with an acronym pointing to Employed but No Disposable Income or Savings
Paisley’s decision to make peace with IRA enemies might remind the Arabs of Sadat

Ian Paisley’s decision to make peace with his IRA enemies

His Save Ulster from Sodomy campaign would surely have been supported by many a Sunni imam
'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

'She was a singer, a superstar, an addict, but to me, her mother, she is simply Amy'

Exclusive extract from Janis Winehouse's poignant new memoir
Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

Is this the role to win Cumberbatch an Oscar?

The Imitation Game, film review
England and Roy Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption in Basel

England and Hodgson take a joint step towards redemption

Welbeck double puts England on the road to Euro 2016
Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Relatives fight over Vivian Maier’s rare photos

Pictures removed from public view as courts decide ownership
‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

‘Fashion has to be fun. It’s a big business, not a cure for cancer’

Donatella Versace at New York Fashion Week