Stargazing can be an incredibly humbling experience. Simply looking at the sky on any given night allows one to not only marvel at the vastness and splendor of our universe, but also to peer back at the history of it.
Because it takes time for the light from an object to reach our eyes here on earth, the light from the stars above us every night is actually from the past. For the moon, it takes about 1.3 seconds for the light to reach earth, so we will always see the moon as it was 1.3 seconds ago. A random speck of light in the sky could be dozens, hundreds, if not thousands of light-years away. For instance, Polaris, the North Star, is 323 light-years from earth. Gazing upon it is seeing light that is older than the United States as a country.
Starting this summer, AY will be outlining the night sky in these easy to digest guides every month, highlighting the biggest and “brightest” celestial events to help better prepare you for stargazing activities; whether it is as simple as looking up when taking the dog outside, or as official as planning date night – we have you covered.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
Halloween is Upon Us, by Tony Milligan.
First Quarter: October 5
Full Moon: October 13*
Third Quarter: October 21
New Moon: October 27
*The full moon of October is often called the Hunter’s Moon or Blood Moon to notate the hunting season, where meat is prepared for the winter months. This not to be confused with the Blood Moon of a Total Lunar Eclipse.
Harvest Season Under the Stars, by Tony Milligan.
Draconids Meteor Shower: 10/6-10
Peak Night: October 8
While the Draconids are not a dazzling light show on most years, the shower usually offers about 5-10 meteors per hour from the dust grains of comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner. What makes the Draconids an interesting shower to observe, is that it is actually best viewed in the early evening, rather than the early morning of most meteor showers. Look to the constellation Draco under dark skies.
Orionids Meteor Shower: 10/2 to 11/7
Peak Night(s): October 21, 22
One of the most historic meteor showers comes back around this month – not for its production, but for its origin. The Orionids shower consists of debris from Halley’s Comet, the ancient queen of the bolides. The Orionids are known to produce about 20 meteors per hour at their peak.
Planets and Special Events
October 17: Eris at Opposition
The orbit of Eris, courtesy of Sky and Telescope.
The second-largest known dwarf planet in the Solar System, Eris, is opposite the sun this month. At the same time, the dwarf will also be at its perigee, or closest point to earth, making it the most opportune time to view the rock this year. Given its distance and size, however, limits its viewability to a telescope only event. Look to the constellation Cetus around 9 p.m., and watch Eris climb to its highest point in our sky at around midnight.
October 19: Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
Since our cousin, Mercury has an orbit that is closer to the Sun than ours, the planet is often lost in the suns glare for much of the year. A handful of times per year, Mercury reaches its greatest elongation, meaning its furthest point of separation from our star. This eastern elongation results in Mercury rising and setting after the sun, making it a bright, viewable object in our early evening skies. Look to the eastern horizon after sunset.
October 28: Uranus at Opposition
Our distant, gassy relative also finds itself in opposition this month, making it the perfect time to view the sometimes elusive planet. It will appear brighter and larger in our sky than any other time of the year, and will be accessible with either a telescope or decent binoculars. Look to the constellation Aries at around 8 p.m. and throughout the night.
In the News
Sketch of planet K2-18b and its star, courtesy of NASA,ESA/Hubble, M. Kornmesser.
For the first time ever, scientists have found signatures of water vapor on an exoplanet in the habitable zone of its solar system. The planet, K2-18b, orbits a red dwarf star in a system 110 light-years away from Earth in the constellation Leo.
The planet was first discovered in 2015 by NASA’s Kepler Space Telescope, and this data to purport the existence of water in its atmosphere was compiled from NASA’s Hubble Space Telescope by astronomers at the Center for Space Exochemistry Data at the University College London.
Stars from Mt. Nebo, by Tony Milligan.
***October 4 to October 9: World Space Week 2019***
October 3: First Thursday October: SPACE
Time: 5:30 to 9:30 p.m.
Location: Experience Fayetteville (21 S Block Ave, Fayetteville, Arkansas 72701)
October 5: SCAS, Moon Over Main Street
Time: 7:30 to 11 p.m.
Location: Gravette Public Library (119 Main Street SE, Gravette, Arkansas 72736)
October 5: Night Sky Exploration
Time: 8:15 to 9 p.m.
Location: Degray Lake, Caddo Bend (2027 State Park Entrance Road Bismarck, AR 71929)
October 5: CAAS, “Observe the Moon Night” Star Party
Time: 7 p.m. to 10 p.m.
Location: Pinnacle Mountain State Park (11901 Pinnacle Valley Road, Little Rock, AR 72223)
Time: 7 p.m. to 9 p.m.
Location: Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art (600 Museum Way, Bentonville, AR 72712)
The best stargazing results are always going to be under the darkest of skies. So, if you can, find a place as far away from city lights as possible when checking out August’s night sky.
Dark Sky Arkansas has a fantastic interactive map of some of the best dark spots and observation sites around the Natural State.
Also, if you have not already, download an app to your phone that helps you find celestial objects and constellations in real-time. Sky Guide and Night Sky are both available for free and are extremely easy to use.
Astrophotography courtesy of Tony Milligan. All photography rights, other than those provided for use by AY About You, belong to him.