If the weather holds, October is a lovely month for stargazing. The Milky Way still lingers in the west along with stars that were prominent in the northern summer. The autumn stars dominate overhead, and the northern winter stars are starting to poke above the eastern horizon. Best of all, you can get in a good night of stargazing without staying up too late. Early this month, there’s a wonderful pairing of planets in the eastern sky before sunrise, two meteor showers, a dramatic occultation of a bright star, another chance to see the ‘False Dawn, and your best chance of the year to see an ‘ice giant’ in the the outer solar system. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…
5 Oct. Full Moon, 18:40 UT
5 Oct. Look for Venus and Mars tight together in the eastern sky before sunrise. Venus vastly outshines Mars, so use a pair of binoculars to put some space between the two planets. They are just 1/4 of a degree apart and about 10 degrees above the horizon. The star σ (sigma) Leonis is very close to the two planets.
8 Oct. The Draconid meteor shower peaks over the next few days. This meteor shower occurs each year when the Earth passes through a stream of debris left from periodic Comet Giacobini-Zinner. While it’s usually a spartan meteor shower, with just a handful of meteors visible each hour, the Draconids have flared up from time to time. In 1933 and 1946, observers reported thousands of meteors per hour, so this modest shower became a meteor storm. There was also a good show in 1988. There’s no word of a flare up this year, but if you’re out stargazing, take a look. You never know.
8-9 Oct. The waning gibbous Moon hovers amidst the stars of the Hyades and near the star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus.
12 Oct. Last Quarter Moon, 12:25 UT
15 Oct. Observers in much of North America can wake early to see the slender crescent Moon occult the bright star Regulus in the eastern sky before sunrise. Find detailed timing for many cities at this link.
17 Oct. From now until the end of the month, northern-hemisphere observers who have very dark sky can see the zodiacal light in the eastern sky about 90-120 minutes before sunrise in the northern hemisphere. This whitish glowing wedge of light appears to thrust upward from the horizon. The zodiacal light, sometimes called the “False Dawn”, is simply sunlight reflected off tiny dust particles in the inner solar system.
19 Oct. New Moon, 19:12 UT
19 Oct. The planet Uranus reaches opposition today, rising in the east as the Sun sets in the west. The planet is just 3.7″ across in a telescope and it shines at magnitude 5.7. Through the end of the month, you’ll get the best view of the planet around midnight. The planet lies in the constellation Pisces a little less than 2 degrees northwest of the star ο (omicron) Piscium.
20-22 Oct. Look for the Orionid meteor shower in the early morning hours. One of the finest of all meteor showers, the Orionids present perhaps 20-40 fast-moving meteors per hour in dark sky. The Moon will be out of the way this year so the sky will remain dark. The radiant of the Orionids is near the club of Orion, but you can see the meteors anywhere in the sky in both hemispheres. Just look up anywhere and start watching. Early morning, from 3 a.m. local time through dawn, is the best time to observe the shower. Like the Aquarid meteors in May, the Orionid meteors are bits of Comet Halley that hit the upper atmosphere as the Earth passes through the debris field of the comet.
23 Oct. Saturn hangs low in the southwestern sky near the waxing crescent Moon. The planet has had a splendid apparition this year and now moves into a position where it’s harder for northern observers to get a decent view. But if you have steady sky, take a look at this dazzling world. Its rings are tilted towards our line of sight by their maximum of 27 degrees. Because of the position of the Sun relative to the planet, the shadows cast by the rings are long and sharp and absolutely beautiful.
27 Oct. First Quarter, 22:22 UTShare This: