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. We change from 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, opportunities to see the night sky in October are changing too.
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.
October is a month with two meteor showers – the Draconids and the Orionids – plus astronomical close encounters in other parts of the month. Here are the best events in the night sky in October.
October 1: M31 is Well-Placed
October is a great month for night sky events, and it kicks off right away. The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31, will be ideally placed for viewing on the night of October 1st.
The moon will be only 25% illuminated on the 1st. The Andromeda constellation (and M31) should be visible in the northeastern sky. This is a great chance to try and spot this winter constellation and one of our galactic neighbors.
October 3: Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter
A few days later, look for Jupiter to make a close approach with the crescent moon. The five-day-old moon will be 31% illuminated on the night of October 3rd, when Jupiter and the moon will pass within 1°50′ of each other. Make sure you have a clear view to the southwestern horizon. The pair will appear only 14° above the horizon!
October 4: The Small Magellanic Cloud is Well-Placed
For those in the southern hemisphere, there’s plenty to see in your night sky this month too! On the night of October 4th, the Small Magellanic Cloud is well-placed for viewing. It will appear high in the night sky around midnight local time. While the SMC is visible on any clear night, this is a great opportunity to pull out a telescope and get a closer look.
October 5: Close Approach of the Moon & Saturn
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 the night of October 5th. On this night, Saturn will pass within 0°15′ 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 6: Close Approach of the Moon & Pluto
Unlike in months past, the close approach of the Moon and Saturn, and between the Moon and Pluto, are technically occurring on diferent nights in the month of October. On the night of October 6th, you’ll need a telescope to spot our favorite dwarf planet as it passes within 0°08′ of the moon as it passes its first quarter phase.
October 9: 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 9th when the meteor shower is expected to peak.
The Draconids meteor shower isn’t as active as other meteor showers – including the Orionids later in the month. But, you can still see up to five meteors per hour. As the moon will be 83% illuminated on the night of October 9th, that may interfere with your ability to view – but if the skies are clear it’s worth the effort.
October 15: M33 is Well-Placed
Following suit from the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Triangulum Galaxy (M33) will rise high in the night sky on the night of October 15th. As these two galaxies are close in the sky, this isn’t a surprise – but rather a celestial treat!
Look for M33 near the zenith around midnight local time in your area. Unfortunately, a nearly full moon may interfere with viewing. You’ll need at least a pair of binoculars to spot the Triangulum Galaxy, so be sure to grab those before you head out.
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.
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 31: Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter
As the month winds down, there’s one last chance to spot some interesting objects in the night sky. Jupiter and the Moon will make another close approach in October, passing within 1°17′ on the night of the 31st. Even better, the moon will be only 3 days old and just 14% illuminated. This will help the biggest planet shine even brighter to our eyes.
This post was originally published in September 2018, and was updated in September 2019. Featured photo by Ryan Kartzke via Flickr.