If you missed a lot of stargazing opportunities in the past months, don't worry about it. October's night skies have a lot in store for you.
Meteor showers are always an awesome thing to behold, and this month we'll be getting two! The moon will also be getting cozy in a few prime spots, and we'll get to see Uranus up close and personal. If you don't have a telescope or a pair of binoculars at least—well, maybe it's time to get one.
At only about 10 meteors per hour, the Draconids are a minor meteor shower that isn't as awesome as others. However, it's still worth checking out, especially if you haven't seen a meteor shower before. The comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was discovered way back in 1900, leaves behind dust grains that appear to us as the Draconids.
What's special about this meteor shower is that it's best viewed in the early evening instead of the early morning. The peak of the Draconids this year will fall on October 8, which unfortunately is also the same night that a full moon will appear. You may have a hard time seeing the meteor shower, but you may be able to get more than just a glimpse.
Image by A.Fazekas/Starry Night Software
If you know your constellations and can map them out in the sky when you go stargazing, you may be able to have a little fun on the night of October 9. We'll have a waning gibbous moon that night, rising to the east close to midnight. The moon will then glide close to the star Aldebaran, which marks the eye of the constellation Taurus, the Bull.
Image by Sven Kohle and Till Credner
The early bird gets the beehive—the Beehive star cluster, that is. In the early morning hours of October 13, you'll be able to find the star cluster with the moon as your guide.
If you have a telescope or a pair of binoculars, get up before dawn and look to the east for the waning crescent moon. You can then look for the star cluster to the lower left of the moon. The distance between the cluster and the moon is just about the width of your fist if you hold it out to the sky.
Amazingly, this star cluster has been known to humankind since the Ancient Greeks discovered it. The cluster is about 610 light years away and is best visible if you're away from city lights.
Image by NASA, ESA, and M. Showalter (SETI Institute)
One of the bigger sky events of October will occur on October 19, the night on which Uranus will be on its closest approach to Earth. It will also reach opposition, which means it will be at the point in its orbit wherein it will be the furthest away from the sun. The planet will hang in our skies for the entire night, and it will make its brightest appearance for the entire year.
Even though Uranus will be at its closest and brightest, it won't be that visible to the naked eye. We'll be able to best see the giant planet with the use of binoculars or a telescope, far away from city lights. Uranus will appear in the sky as a blue disk among the fainter stars in the constellation Pisces.
Image by SLOOH
Halley's comet won't be coming back around until 2061, but until then, we'll just have to make do with its cosmic dust. The comet shed a debris field called the Orionid meteor cloud. When the Earth comes into contact with the cloud, we get the Orionid meteor showers, happening later this month.
The Orionids are bigger than the Draconids, peaking at about 20 meteors per hour. The peak of the shower this year will be on the 21st and 22nd, a night on which the moon will be setting early. Thus, we'll be able to the meteor shower quite well.
Image by Carry et al. - http://astro.troja.mff.cuni.cz/projects/asteroids3D/data/archive/1-1000/A101.M102.shape.png, CC BY 4.0
Pallas is the second-largest asteroid in the solar system and was discovered in 1802. It's similar in size to the asteroid Vesta, and the two asteroids alternate being the second largest asteroids in the solar system.
The night of October 29 is the night that Pallas will reach opposition. The asteroid will also be quite close to Earth at just 155 million miles away. You'll also be able to see the asteroid with binoculars.
On October 5, Mars and Venus will appear in the sky about an hour before the local sunrise. If you're in North America, you'll be able to see the blue star Regulus blink in out of sight close to the moon on October 15. October 15 is also the beginning of the appearance of the zodiacal lights, which will be in our skies until October 30.
On October 17, you'll get a chance to see Mars and Venus as well as a hint of the moon in the early hours of the morning. The moon will again appear in the sky with Saturn on the 23rd and 24th.
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