The rare planet alignment you don’t want to miss in October

Living Well | Author: Perry Vlahos | Photo: NASA | Posted on 23 September 2019

The planets will align in October to create a rare but spectacular sunset sky.

The night sky is a gift from the Universe that keeps on giving. No two evenings are ever exactly alike. However, every now and again alignments occur that make some nights extra special. And we’re about to get some.

Many of these events are brief and never recur, or you have to wait a considerable period of time for a repeat performance. We’re fortunate as the sunset showcase coming up in late October will be visible over a number of evenings with minor variations. If you miss it on the first night, you’ll have more opportunities that week to dazzle the family.

Star gazing

It commences mid month with Venus and Mercury climbing up out of the golden pinkish glow of sunset in the western sky. Venus will be much the brighter and lower to the horizon. Mercury is quite a bit fainter but positioned directly above the planet of love on 16 October.

In order to witness this show and because they will be close to the horizon, you will need to find a location with a clear unobstructed view to the west. In Melbourne a beach on the eastern side of Port Phillip Bay from St Kilda to Portsea will suffice. In the country the top of a hill will be good.

Begin your watch half an hour after sunset and naked eyes alone are all you need, though binoculars are helpful. This is a prelude, the real excitement begins a couple of weeks later on 29th and 30th October when Venus pulls up alongside Mercury and a very thin crescent moon also enters the picture.

For the next few days the moon takes a sojourn, visiting the other planets. On 31 October it will have bright Jupiter directly above it and 2 November shall almost kiss Saturn – separated by just half a degree.

Finally, you may notice an orange-red coloured star between Venus and Jupiter looking like Mars. Apologies, but you’ll not be able to complete the task of bagging all five naked eye planets at once! It’s an imposter - a red supergiant star that would dwarf our sun – like a marble compared to a beach ball, called Antares. Its name meaning rivalling Mars, and that’s what it does.