What are the brightest objects in the universe?

The answer is quasars, which emit incredible amounts of energy over the entire spectrum, including visible light. They are located in the hearts of far distant galaxies and are powered by black holes.

The most distant is nearly 13 billion light years away, meaning it formed less than 800 million years after the Big Bang and is an unimaginably 63 trillion times brighter than the sun.

The nearest is only 581 million light years distant, with a brightness that exceeds all of the billions of stars in its galaxy combined.

Most quasars have a single black hole with masses millions to billions of times greater than the sun that gobble up all of the matter in their neighborhood while emitting energy in the process. Thus quasars with black holes at their hearts constantly cannibalize matter and spew forth energy, making them the brightest objects found in our strange universe.

Focus on the planets

Four naked-eye planets grace the early morning sky in October, Venus, Jupiter, Mars and Mercury, while Saturn reigns alone as the single easily found planet during the evening hours.

Mercury rises above the eastern horizon about an hour before dawn. The best chance to spot Mercury is on Oct. 11, when it is about a degree to the upper left of the slim crescent moon. As the month progresses, Mercury slides ever deeper into the glare of sunrise.

Venus rises in the east at about 3:30 a.m. where it keeps company with two planets and the crescent moon.

Mars shortly follows Venus into the eastern sky, where the much dimmer “Red Planet” may be seen to the lower left of its illustrious predecessor.

Jupiter is the last of the planetary triumvirate to rise on the eastern horizon, following Mercury and Venus. With the trio complete, dawn on Oct. 3 will find Jupiter, Mars, Regulus and Venus in an ascending line from left to right.

Saturn rises in the southwest about an hour after sunset, where the ringed planet has ruddy Antares as a companion. Saturn’s ring system is still well-tilted for observation and the major moon Titan may be spotted as well.

Uranus is best spotted around midnight among the stars of Pisces, while Neptune is found in Aquarius. The blue-green and blue-gray disks of Uranus and Neptune respectively can be found with binoculars and the aid of the Sky & Telescope magazine’s finder chart at skypub.com/urnep.

October events

1 Sunrise, 6:33 a.m.; sunset, 6:17 p.m.

3 Jupiter, Mars, Regulus and Venus are in ascending order on the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise.

4 Moon in last quarter, 5:08 p.m.

9 Mars, Jupiter and the moon are in a fairly close circle just before sunrise with Venus just above.

11 Mercury is close to the upper left of the moon just before dawn. Jupiter, Mars and Venus are far to the upper right. The moon is at apogee or farthest distance from Earth.

12 New moon, 8:06 p.m.

16 Saturn is close to the lower right of the moon this evening.

17 Look for an extremely close pairing of Mars and Jupiter on the eastern horizon an hour before sunrise that will not be repeated until 2018.

20 First quarter moon, 4:32 p.m.

21 The Orionid meteor shower peaks tonight. The moon sets around 1:30 a.m. giving about a 4-hour window for observation. Expect an average 15 meteors per hour radiating from Orion’s raised club near Betelgeuse.

25 Jupiter and Venus, the brightest objects in the night sky after the moon, stand side by side in the pre-dawn sky.

27 Full moon, 8:05 a.m. The full moon of October is called the hunter’s moon or blood moon.

28 Jupiter, Venus and Mars form a tight triangle in the east-southeast an hour before sunrise.

29 Look for Aldebaran, the ‘Red Eye’ of Taurus the Bull, close to the upper right of the Moon at mid-evening.

31 Halloween, a cross-quarter day marking the midpoint between the fall equinox and winter solstice. The sun enters Libra on the ecliptic. Sunrise, 7:12 a.m.; sunset, 4:26 p.m.

Send astronomical queries to Clair Wood at cgmewood@aol.com or care of the Bangor Daily News, Features Desk, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor, ME 04402.