What can I see in the October skies? Mars draws close, a blue moon and the space station

It is rather apt that we mark the 100th birth anniversary of American science fiction author Frank Herbert in the same month Mars reaches opposition - its closest point to Earth as it orbits the sun.

Arrakis, the desert world at the centre of Herbert’s Dune saga, has similar conditions to what astronomers in the late-19th and early 20th centuries thought existed on the Red Planet: Life and difficult to extract sources of water.

Those times when closest allow us to scrutinise the planet in detail through a telescope, revealing polar ice caps and markings that change as they are covered or uncovered by shifting sands.

Italian observers in the late 1800s also charted straight slender features they named canali, or channels, which had the unfortunate consequence of being misinterpreted as “canals” by English publications.

Authors like Wells and Burroughs kept alive the idea of an inhabited world, and attempts were even made in 1924 to listen for radio messages from the Red Planet.

Their flight is currently scheduled for October 23rd but sightings of the capsule from Ireland as it closes in on the orbiting outpost depend on the Falcon’s exact launch time.

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