In the northern hemisphere, October evokes thoughts of crunchy leaves, jack-o-lanterns, and yes, even the PSL. It also signals a full turning of the seasons; after the equinox in September, we’re into aurora season – and it turns out to be meteor season too! This year, the October night sky is going to be a great one.
This month is a fun combination of those meteor showers, close approaches, and oppositions. It turns out to be one of the ‘busier’ months of the year, from an astronomical perspective.
If you need a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. From the Meade Polaris 130 (under $200) to the Orion Atlas 8 EQ-G GoTo ($2000), you can find one for your astronomy interest and budget.
Ready to learn more about what you can see in the October night sky this year? Read on for 17 of the most interesting astronomical events and viewing opportunities in the night sky in October 2020.
This post was originally published in September 2018, and was updated in September 2019 and September 2020.
Featured photo by Ryan Kartzke via Flickr.
October 2 – Close Approach of the Moon & Mars
Mars has been being shy the past few month, but has slowly been rising earlier in the night and increasing in viewing prospects. On the night of October 2nd, you should be able to easily spot Mars as it makes a close approach with the Moon from our earthly perspective.
The Moon and Mars will pass within 0°39′ of one another, and the Moon will be bright at 98% illuminated. This will impact viewing prospects, especially if you’re using a pair of binoculars, but you should still be able to spot the pair easily with the unaided eye.
October 5 – Peak of the Camelopardalid Meteor Shower
As constellations go, Camelopardalis is one of the more overlooked ones in the sky. Camelopardalis is a large constellation that represents a giraffe and sits between Ursa Major and Cassiopeia.
It’s also home to a meteor shower, the Camelopardalids, which will peak this year on the night of October 5th. (These ones are officially the “October Camelopardalids;” there’s a new meteor shower called the “May Camelopardalids” that astronomers have recently discovered too.)
Unfortunately, the October Camelopardalids aren’t the most active and only peak at a maximum Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 5 meteors per hour. That plus the full moon on October 4th will affect your shooting star viewing prospects, but it’s still one to mark on your calendar if you have clear skies on October 5th.
October 7/8 – Peak of the Draconid Meteor Shower
Radiating from the constellation Draco, the dragon, this northern hemisphere constellation will be spotted near the bright star of Vega on the night of October 7th and into the morning of the 8th, when the meteor shower is expected to peak.
The Draconids meteor shower isn’t as active as other meteor showers, with a variable ZHR each year – especially compared with the Orionids later in the month. As the moon will be 62% illuminated on the night of October 8th, that may interfere with your ability to view – but if the skies are clear it’s worth the effort.
October 10 – Peak of the Southern Taurid Meteor Shower
Despite their name, the Southern Taurid meteor shower is actually visible in the northern hemisphere. Instead, the Southern Taurids are so named due to a split in the Taurids meteor shower caused by gravitational perturbations – especially from Jupiter – that have resulted in two different branches of the meteor shower.
All that said, the best night to see the Southern Taurids will be on October 10th this year (the Northern Taurids will peak on November 11th). On this night you can expect to see a maximum of 5 meteors per hour. The moon will be passing the third quarter phase, and only 46% illuminated, better aiding your chances to see these meteors.
There’s been some discussion over when the Southern Taurids will peak this year – some sources say either October 10th, October 29th/30th, or November 5th. Those all sound like great days to get out and go stargazing!
October 11 – Peak of the δ-Aurigid Meteor Shower
Going for BINGO on the meteor showers this month? Here’s another chance to see more: the δ-Aurigid meteor shower will peak on the night of October 11th. We’ll be honest though: Delta Aurigids aren’t the most stimulating, with a maximum ZHR of 2 per hour. Just keep an eye out for them if you happen to be out stargazing this night anyway.
October 13 – Close Approach of the Moon & Venus and Mars at Opposition
October 13th is one of two nights this month where you can spot multiple interesting astronomy events in the night sky. First up is a close approach between the waning moon and bright Venus. They won’t get super close, at 4°02′ between them, but it should be obvious when the crescent moon passes our celestial neighbor.
The 13th is also a great night to go out and look for Mars. The Red Planet will be at opposition and brightly lit by the sun. It will be in the constellation Pisces, high in the southern sky. While Mars is not particularly close to earth right now based on the eccentricity of the planet’s orbit, it’s still nice to see Mars back in the sky.
October 16 – Eris at Opposition
Love dwarf planets? Here’s a chance to spot one this month: massive, distant Eris will reach opposition on the night of October 16th. This night, it will appear bright in the night sky, but you’ll need a telescope to spot it. Use a night sky app and look in the constellation Cetus to find Eris.
October 18 – Peak of the ε-Geminid Meteor Shower
Another night, another chance to see meteors! On the night of October 18th, the ε-Geminid meteor shower will peak at a maximum ZHR of 3 per hour. While Epsilon Geminids aren’t particularly thrilling, those you see will be easy to spot with small waxing crescent moon and offer a good warm-up for the Orionids in a few days.
October 21 – Peak of the Orionid Meteor Shower
The greatest night sky event in October is undoubtedly the Orionids meteor shower, which is expected to peak on October 21st this year. While the meteor shower occurs from October 16th to 30th, there may be up to 25 meteors per hour on the peak night (actually, it will likely be in the morning on the 21st, though sources vary on this).
The Orionids are easy to spot since they originate from a point in the night sky near the highly-recognizable constellation Orion. Look for Orion in the eastern sky if you’re trying to see this meteor shower. The moon will be located in the southern sky and hopefully won’t create too much light interference.
The best time to watch the Orionids will be in the pre-dawn hours of 3:30 am-5:00 am.
October 22 – Close Approach of the Moon, Saturn & Jupiter
Saturn and Jupiter have been moving through the sky together for months now – the dance will continue until December when they make a great conjunction together. Until then, they’ll be in the same part of the sky and have a close approach with the Moon on the same night of the month.
First up, the Moon and Jupiter will pass within 2°00′ of each other around dusk; the Moon and Saturn will then appear within 2°34′ of each other a few hours later. As the Moon will be only 6 days old and only 46% illuminated, this is a fun night to pull out your telescope and look at all three celestial objects in close proximity.
October 23 – Parthenope at Opposition
Named for the Greek Siren, don’t be surprised if you feel the call of asteroid 11 Parthenope to go stargazing on the night of October 23rd. On this night, Parthenope will be at opposition and well-lit by the sun. You’ll need a telescope to spot this bright main-belt asteroid in the constellation Pisces; it will appear at its highest around midnight local time.
October 24 – Peak of the Leonis Minorid Meteor Shower
Not over trying to spot meteors yet? Here’s your last chance in October! On the night of October 24th, the Leonis Minorid meteor shower will peak. This lesser meteor shower appears to radiate from the constellation Leo with bright Regulus to help you find the area of the sky.
The Leonis Minorids aren’t particularly active, and the maximum ZHR is roughly 2 per hour. That plus a relatively bright moon at 59% illuminated will reduce your chances to complete meteor BINGO, but it’s always fun to try if you have a clear night sky.
October 27 – Papagena at Opposition
Named for a character in Mozart’s opera The Magic Flute, asteroid 471 Papagena isn’t as well known as many other asteroids you might try to spot. However, Papagena has a special reason to try and see it when it reaches opposition – as it will on the night of October 27th.
Every 5 years, Papagena increases from its standard magnitude around 13 to an apparent magnitude of 9.8. 2020 is one of those years! Pull out your telescope and try to spot unusual Papagena in the constellation Cetus.
October 29 – Close Approach of the Moon & Mars
In a repeat from earlier in the month, the Moon and Mars will make another close approach before the end of October. On the night of October 29th, the Red Planet and Moon will appear within 2°42′ of one another. Once again, the moon will be bright at 96% illuminated.
October 31 – Uranus at Opposition
Last, but not least: Uranus. (What a way to end the month!) On the night of October 31st, Uranus will be at opposition and ideal for observation (though the Moon will also be Full on this night, interfering with your prospects depending on the time you set up to view Uranus).
Pull out your telescope and look for icy Uranus in the constellation Aires. At its brightest, it will be unfortunately close to the Moon for the whole night.
Have questions about any of these October night sky astronomical events? Let us know in the comments.