Every month, AY About You outlines the night sky in these easily digestible guides. And stargazing in October is another one for the books.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
Full Moon: Oct. 1*
Third Quarter: Oct. 9
New Moon: Oct. 16
First Quarter: Oct. 23
Full Moon: Oct. 31*
This month marks one of those every-now-and-then rarities for two reasons. For one, the first full moon of the month is the Harvest Moon, which only occurs in October once every three years. Second, there are two full moons this month, making the phase of Halloween a Blue Moon. This phenomenon also only happens once every couple of years or so. (Hence the phrase, “Once in a Blue Moon.”)
Draconids Meteor Shower: 10/6-10
Peak Night: Oct. 7
The Draconids is a mild meteor shower, known for generally around 10 meteors per hour at peak level. But what makes this shower special is not how it rains, but when. Unlike most, the Draconids is best viewed in the early evening hours, rather than the early morning. The moon shouldn’t be too bright on the peak night, but given the sparsity of the meteors, a location well away from city lights will be favored.
Orionids Meteor Shower: 10/2-11/7
Peak Night(s): Oct. 21, 22
After the Draconids appetizer, this month delivers a second meteor shower, which is one of my favorites of the year. It’s an average event producing only around 20 meteors per hour at peak, but the shower consists of dust grains from the famed Halley’s Comet. And since Halley won’t be visiting our third rock from the sun until 2062, this is the best we can do until then.
Planets and Special Events
Oct. 1: Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
Mercury reaches its furthest point from the sun in this season’s cycle. This eastern elongation will make it a point of starlight in the early evening, so look to the east just after sunset.
Oct. 13: Mars at Opposition
Mars arrives at a point directly opposite the sun as compared to the earth, termed its opposition. This also marks the red planet’s perigee — or closest point to the Earth in orbit — which makes our neighbor appear brighter in our night sky. And this month, this routine cosmic event is far more a spectacle than usual, as it will be Mars’ closest approach to the earth until 2035, and closest since 2003. Look to the east at around 7:30 p.m.; it will rise and travel westward through the sky before setting at dawn.
Oct. 16: Eris at Opposition
The second-largest known dwarf planet in our solar system, Eris, also finds itself at opposition this month. The rock is what’s known as a trans-Neptunian object, orbiting the sun at a distance farther than Pluto. Look to the east around 9 p.m. with binoculars or a telescope.
Oct. 31: Uranus at Opposition
The stars are quite literally aligned this month, as Uranus also reaches opposition and perigee. Look to the east at around 8 p.m. in the constellation Aries.
In the News
Something Weird Is Happening on Venus (The Atlantic)
After the moon, Venus is the brightest object in the night sky, gleaming like a tiny diamond in the darkness. The planet is so radiant because of its proximity to Earth, but also because it reflects most of the light that falls across its atmosphere, more than any other world in the solar system.
Something really weird is happening in those clouds.
Scientists revealed [Sept. 14] that they have detected traces of a gas in the Venusian atmosphere that, according to everything they understand about Venus, shouldn’t be there. They considered many explanations for what could be producing the gas, known as phosphine, and settled on an explanation guided by what they know about our own planet. On Earth, phosphine—a toxic gas—is produced by microorganisms.
No public events this month. Stay home and stay well.
If you’re still itching for more space to curb your boredom this month, give Celestia and Stellarium a try. Both are free to use and provide unique and interactive experiences with the stars, planets and more.
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 stargazing in October.