Finally, October! With summer now officially behind us, the best season for astronomy has only just started: Autumn, with its wonderful colours, cooler temperatures and progressively longer, darker nights. Weather allowing, October will keep any astronomer busy as we go toward three jaw dropping conjunctions, a Hunters Moon and two meteor showers. Let’s see the main event of the month in detail.
October 6 – New Moon. The New Moon is the first lunar phase, when the far side of our natural satellite is fully lit leaving the side visible from Earth in the dark. Mark this date on your calendar for this is the best time to observe or photograph faint objects such as galaxies, nebulas or star clusters as there is no moonlight brightening the sky!
October 7-8 – Draconids Meteor Shower. Imagine a comet travelling through the Solar System, melting as it gets close to the Sun, and leaving behind dust grains that then burn out on entering Earth’s atmosphere. This is the Draconis meteor shower. As the name suggest, it will have its radiant in the constellation Draco but can be seen anywhere in the sky. This event is best observed from dark skies, far away from cities’ light pollution, and with the naked eye as a telescope would only reduce your field of view.
October 9 – Conjunction of the Moon and Venus. Look up at the sky on this evening and you will see a crescent Moon accompanied by a very bright “star-like”. That’s planet Venus in conjunction with a 3 days old Moon: a spectacular show for everyone to watch. Well, almost everyone, as the pair will be too low on the horizon to be observed at high latitudes. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars can deliver amazing views!
October 14 – Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn. The 8 days old Moon is in good company on this evening as it rides along the ringed planet. The show will start right after dawn, around 7pm, and will continue throughout the evening until the two set at around midnight. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars can deliver amazing views!
October 15 – Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter. One day later, the Moon engages in a dance with Jupiter and its moons in what is arguably the most beautiful conjunction of the month. The dance will begin right after dawn above the south-eastern horizon and will be visible until the pair sets at around 1:20am. Again, this event is visible to the naked eyes though a pair of binoculars will show Jupiter’s Galilean moons.
October 20 – Full Moon. Native Americans referred to the October full Moon as the Hunters Moon as this generally marked the beginning of the hunting season, when wild animals are well fed and fat enough. This month the full Moon occurs at around 5pm CET. Other names for this month’s full Moon are the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon. The full Moon is obviously well visible to the naked eye but the view through a telescope or binoculars is an unforgettable experience.
October 21-22 – Orionids Meteor Shower. The Orionidis meteor shower originates from the Comet Halley, one of the first ever observed, as early as 467 BC according to some, although the first certain observation was recorded in 240 BC. This meteor shower is visible throughout October and the first week of November but it’s on this evening that it reaches its peak. The radiant will be the constellation Orion. This event is best observed from dark skies, far away from cities’ light pollution, and with the naked eye as a telescope would only reduce your field of view.
DSOs in October. October is a great month for astrophotography, with three of the most appreciated and photographed targets well positioned, high in the night sky: the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), the Triangulum Galaxy (M33) and the Pleiades (M45). At some latitudes, Orion also begins to be visible although only late at night. The best astrophotography season has just begun!
Other DSOs visible this month include the Heart Nebula (IC 1805) and the Soul Nebula (IC 1848), the Wizard Nebula (NGC 7380), the Flaming Star Nebula (C 31) and the North America Nebula (NGC 7000). The double cluster in Perseus (NGC 869 and NGC 884) is one of the most stunning sights in the sky whereas the Elephant’s Trunk Nebula (IC 1396), never fails to amaze. Take out your telescope and camera, it’s hunting season!