Night Sky Month and Bright Mars

On October 1st, The Hill Country Alliance kicked off its first annual Hill Country Night Sky Month and here are some of the activities and events planned.

October 14, 1-4pm:  Conservation of the Night, a virtual conference.  Hosted by Hays County Master Naturalist Cindy Luongo Cassidy and Troup 145 Girl Scout Ambassador Emma Schmidt.

October 15, 1-2:30pm; Kerrville, TX; Riverside Nature Center:  Batty for Night Skies, a live discussion.  TPWD Park Superintendent of Old Tunnel State Park Nyta Brown will discuss the life and habits of Mexican Free Tail Bats followed by a virtual viewing of their emergence at the park.  To register:

October 15, 1-2pm; Texas Master Naturalists Annual Meeting; a virtual talk.  After Sunset, a talk by Dr. Travis Longcore will focus on the nocturnal landscape and how light pollution disrupts it. To register:

October 17, 7:30-10pm; Blue Hole Star Party. Wimberly, TX; Blue Hole Soccer Fields: Free/registration required:  Hosted by the Wimberly Parks and Recreation Department.  To register:

October 24, 6:30-8pm; Virtual Star Party from McKinney Falls State Park: Via a Zoom meeting, Hill Country Alliance and Travis County Friends of the Night Sky team up to host this live virtual star party.  Also get a lesson on nocturnal habitat.  To RSVP:

October 31, all day+; Howl at the Moon; Boerne: Enjoy a Night Sky beer at Cibolo Creek Brewing

For updates and details:

What’s in the Sky?

Mars is continuing to get bigger and brighter in the sky, heading for its opposition on October 13th.

What is opposition?  For planets outside Earth’s orbit around the Sun (Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune) if the Sun were on one side, Earth in the middle, and the planet on the other side, the planet is at opposition.  The Sun sets in the west as the planet is rising in the east.

This time Mars’ opposition closely coincides with its perihelion (closest approach to the Sun in its orbit) which occurred on August 3rd, so it is also closer to Earth and looks bigger. Yea!  But wait!  It will be closest to Earth on October 6th, not the 13th.  So, it will appear largest on the 6th and gradually diminish as it moves away from Earth.  Not to worry, it will appear big and bright, brighter than Jupiter for a while before and after its closest approach.  How close is that?  About 62 million kilometers (38.5 million miles).  Its next close approach is expected in September 2035.

What might you see?  You will need a little power, at least 60x. You will be able to see Mars’ disk and maybe some shading differences.  Higher power, 100x or more will provide better detail.  Bright clouds, major dark surface features such as Syrtis Major and the North Polar Hood (clouds above Mars’ North Pole). Maybe the summer-shrunken south polar cap?  Good hunting!

It will NOT look as big as the Moon, not even close!