On Sept. 16, 2011, the Russian spacecraft Soyuz TMA-21 landed safely in the steppes of Kazakhstan with NASA flight engineer Ronald Garan among its three-man crew. The trio spent a total of 164 days in space together with 162 of these being aboard the ISS. This example of American-Russian cooperation is in stark contrast to an event of nearly 54 years earlier when, on Oct. 4, 1957, the Soviets launched into space a tiny satellite often dubbed the “beeping beachball.” This event more than any other ushered in the Space Age as the United States raced to catch up. Now, with the Space Shuttle a memory and nothing on the horizon to replace it, NASA astronauts are reduced to hitchhikers aboard Russian craft on their way to and from the ISS.

Focus on the Planets

Mercury appears very low on the southwest horizon a half hour after sunset during the last week of the month. You might spot the elusive inner planet directly beneath Venus.

Venus is low in the southwest at sunset but sets a half hour after the Sun as the month opens but stays up for about an hour at month’s end.

Mars starts October in the Beehive Cluster rising about 2 a.m. and high in the southeast by dawn.

Jupiter rises in the east about an hour after sunset as October opens and remains in view for most of the night. The moon pays a visit to Jupiter on Oct. 13.

Saturn is on the opposite side of the sun as viewed from Earth on Oct. 14 and is hidden from view this month.

Uranus in Pisces and Neptune in Aquarius can be found during the late night hours using the finder’s charts at SkyandTelescope.com/uranusneptune or on page 53 of September’s issue of “Sky & Telescope.”

October Events

1: Sunrise, 6:33 a.m.; sunset, 6:17 p.m. Mars is nearly in the center of the Beehive Cluster in the predawn eastern sky.

4: Moon in first quarter, 11:15 p.m.

8: Peak night for the Draconid meteor shower. This occasionally major shower may be largely washed out by the brightness of the nearly full moon.

12: Full moon, 10:06 p.m. The full moon of October is the Hunter’s Moon. Note that Jupiter is to the lower left of the moon. The moon is at apogee, or farthest distance from Earth.

20: Moon in last quarter, 11:31 p.m.

21: Mars is directly to the left of the moon about an hour before sunrise on the southeastern horizon. This is the peak night for the Orionid meteor shower that may produce up to 20 meteors per hour with little interference from the waning crescent moon.

23: The sun enters the astrological sign of Scorpio but astronomically is still in Virgo.

26: The moon is at perigee, or nearest approach to Earth. New moon, 3:56 p.m. The combination of these two events could lead to astronomically high tides.

28: Venus, Mercury and the thin crescent moon form a close grouping in the southwest shortly after sunset. Antares is the bright reddish star to the moon’s left.

31: Halloween, the day before All Saints Day that marks a cross-quarter day midway between the autumnal equinox and winter solstice. The sun enters Libra on the equinox. Sunrise, 7:12 a.m.; sunset, 5:26 p.m.