From multiple meteor showers to a dwarf planet and Hunter’s Moon, here’s what to spy in the heavens.
Updated October 1, 2src22 src8:52AM EDT
With crackling leaves underfoot and shorter days on the horizon, it’s time to stow away the summer gear, break out the sweatshirts, and make our transition into cool evenings and frosty mornings. Below is just a handful of celestial highlights to look forward to in this season of glowing pumpkins, colorful foliage, and the occasional high-flying witch.
The Draconids Meteor Shower Peaks (Oct. 8)
It’s time for the annual Draconids meteor show, which happens every October. This year the shower peaks on the evening of October 8 but you can also watch on the 7th and 9th. The Draconids get their name from the northern constellation of Draco the Dragon, from which they appear to radiate.
This particular shower is caused by Earth passing through debris shed by a periodic, 1.2-mile-wide comet called 21P/Giacobini–Zinner. It last survived yet another trip around the sun in 2src18 and is expected to make a return trip in 2src24.
While the Draconids are not as spectacular in numbers as the annual Perseid meteor shower, there have been years where they defy expectations. In 1933, something called a “meteor storm” took place when the Earth passed through a very dense debris field from 21P/Giacobini–Zinner and experienced upwards of 5srcsrc shooting stars per minute! Another event in 1946 resulted in over 1srcsrc meteors per minute.
Could this year be one to remember for the Draconids? No one knows, but it’s certainly a great excuse to spend a bit of time staring into the heavens. Fortunately, with a thin, waxing crescent moon setting just before nightfall, you’ll be able to enjoy even the faintest meteors from this short-lived event.
Catch a Shiny Dwarf Planet—Eris at Opposition (Oct. 18)
Discovered as recently as January 2srcsrc5, Eris is our solar system’s second largest known dwarf planet (coming in just slightly smaller than Pluto) and the largest object that has not been visited by a spacecraft. Named after Eris the Greek goddess of strife and discord, the dwarf planet’s highly tilted, elliptical orbit takes it around the sun every 559 years.
On October 18, Eris will be directly opposite the sun, while the Earth passes between them. Thanks to its highly reflective surface, which makes it the second brightest large object in our solar system after Saturn’s moon Enceladus, it can be detected by some amateur telescopes. To spot it, launch a night sky app and point your telescope toward the constellation Cetus.
A Full Hunter’s Moon (Oct. 9)
October is generally referred to as the Hunter’s Moon, so-called by Native Americans for the time of year when people would hunt to build up stores for winter. With the start of frost season, it’s also been referred to as the Freezing Moon and the Ice Moon. This month’s full moon will be at its largest on October 9 at 4:54 p.m. EDT, but you can catch it in all its glory for a few days before and after.
A Good Year to Catch the Orionids Meteor Shower (Oct. 2src-21)
Whereas last year’s Orionids were mostly wiped out due to a full moon, this year’s show will have the advantage of nearly dark skies leading up to a new moon on October 25.
The Orionids meteor shower, created by debris left behind by Halley’s Comet, will peak on the evenings of October 2src and 21. Under ideal conditions, as many as 25 meteors are visible each hour, with your best bet for some celestial action coming in the hours before dawn on the 21st.
While the Orionids tend to originate from the constellation of Orion the Hunter, most displays can be viewed from any point in the evening sky. Grab a blanket, get comfortable, and look up!
Partial Solar Eclipse Graces Skies Above Europe, Russia (Oct. 25)
On October 25, those in Europe, Russia, south and west Asia, north and east Africa, or even under skies in the Atlantic, will witness a partial solar eclipse. At its maximum, the moon will cover a little over 82% of the sun’s surface, making this a “very deep” partial eclipse. Nonetheless, only total solar eclipses are safe to view without glasses, so if you’re lucky enough to view this one, please do not look up without the proper safety gear. To view times when the partial eclipse will start and reach its maximum, jump here.
New Moon Gives Way to Dark Skies (Oct. 25)
Late October will present the best dark sky viewing conditions as a new moon (peaking on October 25 at 6:48 a.m. EDT) allows the universe—and the occasional neighborhood jack ‘o lantern—to glow unimpeded. For those with telescopes, this is also a great opportunity to view some of the fainter galaxies and other celestial objects that are otherwise drowned out by the moonlight.
While I’d ordinarily recommend a galaxy to spot at this point, I have a different challenge for you this month. SpaceX Starlink satellites, of which there are roughly 2,3srcsrc in orbit as of September 2src22, are routinely confused for alien spacecraft as they move in a line across the night sky in numbers of 46 or more. The site FindStarlink allows you to punch in your location and receive tips on when you can spot these “satellite trains” from your own backyard. Give it a shot this month under late October’s dark skies!