What’s Up Above? October Stargazing
By “Astro” Mark Laurin
Showers and more showers are in the forecast for this month. Meaning, meteor showers. Challenge yourself to catch both the Draconids and the Orionids this month. Astro Mark’s insider tip is to focus on the Draconids since you can catch them soon after sunset till midnight, and you won’t injure your neck waiting to see a shooting star. Easy Peasy. Another highlight, our most distant planet is simple to locate in the night sky. That should be reason enough to look up this month.
Orionids Meteor Shower: Peak October 21st – 22nd
The Orionid meteor shower is an annual show for us in the northern hemisphere. The show runs from October 2nd through November 7th. This year the Orionids peak on the nights of Oct. 21 and 22, between midnight and dawn. The Reporting is that this year’s shower will not be as abundant as in past years so anticipate around 20 meteors per hour during the peak period. What to see the Orionids? Find a nice dark-sky location and then settle in. Recline your chair and look straight up to the zenith of the night sky that points directly overhead. This is where the shower will originate after midnight. Keep a wide angle view of the sphere above as the meteors can come from any direction.
Draconid Meteor Shower: October 6th – 10th
Unlike the Orionids, you don’t have to get up after midnight and stay up all night to catch this show. Honestly, that’s the challenge of seeing most meteor showers at their optimal. It requires getting outside at ungodly hours of the night or in the extremely early morning hours of the new day.
But the Draconids are that rare meteor shower best observed between sunset and midnight when the constellation Draco the dragon, where the meteors appear to originate, is highest in the evening sky. Get outside away from artificial light if you can, and give yourself 20-minutes to get your night vision. Look to the northwest horizon. The radiant point of the shower is about 30 degrees above the horizon. Sadly, this year, the Draconids are not predicted to be exceptional, but still a great show of shooting stars per hour is expected. Why not make it an affair. Gather the friends and family to catch the dragon’s flames flashing across the night sky.
Neptune and Jupiter: October 10th – 31st
Our outermost planet will be easy to locate this month. Neptune, the Roman god of freshwater and the sea is a gas giant (like Jupiter and Saturn). To see Neptune this month, you’ll need a pair of binoculars, as it cannot be observed with the naked eye. The good thing is it is easy to find.
Start with Jupiter in the southeast around 9pm local time. Besides the moon, that’s easy as it’s the brightest object in the sky right now. Look to the right of Jupiter and extend its arcing across the ecliptic. Now, straighten your arm, extend it out towards Jupiter, and make a fist. Turn your fist flat so your closed fingers face down. Place your thumb next to Jupiter, and begin your search for Neptune at the pinky end of the fist. You’re looking for a dim bluish disk. Continue along the arc and look for a small, but definitely a blue pin prick of color. Playing to your advantage is the duo are inside a relatively star-less area of the night sky, between the constellations of Pisces and Aquarius. This alone makes Neptune easier to spot. Happy hunting. Neptune is worth the search. You’ll be surprised by how clearly blue its color is.
Partial Solar Eclipse: October 25th
Have that travel bug? Feeling the need to get out of town? Why not book a flight to Europe, or northern Africa, or the Middle East, or Asia to catch a partial solar eclipse? Heck, consider it a warm up for the next great American eclipse coming in April, 2024.
But you say, “Astro Mark, I can’t travel, what am I to do?” Not to worry. You can see a live stream of the event from various locations via the web. If you want to see the eclipse live via the web, then remember the eclipse will begin at 3am MDT and end at 7am MDT. If you’ve already made your plans to witness the eclipse IRL, don’t forget the solar safe eclipse glasses!
Clear skies to you!