October is upon us – a month of transition and change throughout both hemispheres. With the passing of the September equinox, the world is shifting seasons: to autumn and winter in the northern part of the globe, and to spring and summer in the southern. As daylight returns to certain parts of the world and leaves others, our opportunities to see the night sky are changing too.
October is a month with two bombastic meteor showers – the Draconids and the Orionids – plus interesting astronomical meetings in other parts of the month. We’ve even included a bit about the moon on Halloween so you can plan ahead to take advantage of the night of spooky stargazing if that’s your style.
Before you dive in, don’t forget to check out our stargazing guides series, which includes tips on where to see the darkest skies in your area.
October 7: Draconids Meteor Shower
Photo credit: Darron Birgenheier via Flickr
While we’re all impatiently waiting for the next season of Game of Thrones, head outside to see the dragon breathe fire. You guessed it: the Draconids meteor shower peak in early October!
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 when the meteor shower is expected to peak. While this isn’t as active as other meteor showers – including the Orionids later in the month – you can see up to five meteors per hour. As the new moon occurs on October 9th, it will be a nice, dark night to try and view the Draconids.
October 11: Close Approach of Jupiter & the Moon
Photo credit: Mark Kent via Flickr
Fresh after the new moon on October 11th, look for Jupiter to make a close approach with the crescent moon.
As the sun sets, the young moon and largest planet will appear within 4° of one another in the southwestern sky. Make sure you have a clear view to the horizon in that direction, as the pair will appear only 14° above the horizon! Venus and Saturn are in a similar part of the sky, so look for bright Venus to help you spot Jupiter.
October 14: Close Approach of Saturn & the Moon
Photo credit: Ryan Hallock via Flickr
As suggested by the close approach of Jupiter a few days earlier, Saturn is close to the moon too. Saturn will make its closest approach on October 14th, passing within 1.5° of the moon as it approaches first quarter.
Look for Saturn and the moon in the southern sky just after dusk, close to the horizon. They’ll appear quite close together, so you should be able to view them both with a pair of binoculars if you want a closer view than the naked eye.
October 18: Close Approach of Mars & the Moon
Photo credit: Manu Méndez via Flickr
Mars makes its own close approach to the moon too, passing within 2° of the moon on the night of October 18th.
The Red Planet has been especially vibrant since its close approach to the earth in July, so it should be easy to spot while stargazing. Look for the moon and Mars as they rise in the southeast and set in the southwest.
October 21: Orionid Meteor Shower
Photo credit: Mike Lewinski via Flickr
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.
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. While the Moon is approaching full, it 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, once the moon has set and Orion is high in the southern sky.
October 23: Uranus at Opposition
Photo credit: Peter via Flickr
If you have a telescope at home or nearby observatory, October 23rd is a good night to take a look through the viewfinder. While Uranus is visible to the naked eye, you’ll get a much better view with some magnification.
The reason you should try to observe Uranus on this night is that the planet is at opposition. This means that Uranus is opposite from the sun in our sky, and the face of the planet will be lit up. As you can see from the above photo, Uranus can be bright and eye-catching when viewed during this particular astronomical alignment.
Look for Uranus high in the southern sky, above the full moon. Light from the moon may interfere with some observations, so check the Explore page to find an observatory near you with a telescope powerful enough to zoom in on this distant gas giant.
October 31: The Moon on Halloween (Last Quarter)
Photo credit: Michael Seeley via Flickr
One big question every October is: what will the moon be like on Halloween? For those who celebrate this holiday, the “right moon” can create a creepy atmosphere for trick-or-treating, costume parties, or other spooky activities.
On October 31st, the moon will be at its last quarter, a bright semicircle in the western sky beneath the Big Dipper. While this means there won’t be any werewolves out on Halloween, it should make for some great pictures framed by autumn leaves and the surrounding stars.
Featured image by Ryan Kartzke via Flickr