It’s October, and with the new month comes several opportunities for night sky watching. Some of these events are annual occurrences, while others are much more unique. Grab a sweater and find some dark sky this month and you’re sure to be pleased. This is a great activity for all and kids can share their experiences in class.
Let’s start with the rising of the full harvest moon on Oct. 1. The moon will appear to have an orange glow as it rises just above the horizon in the east. Even though the moon is technically full on the 1st, there will be a negligible difference as it rises on Oct. 2 and even on Oct. 3. This is the time of year when the moon doesn’t fall as far below the horizon after it sets, so the gap between moonrise is smaller and therefore we get several nights where the moon appears nearly full.
On Oct. 2, Mars also will rise alongside the moon at virtually the same time. This will be a great opportunity for sky-watchers to take some really neat pictures as Mars is nearing its brightest point of the whole year and in several years. You can’t miss Mars as it will take on that orangey glow.
Mars is so bright because it is close to opposition. That’s the point where from our perspective, Earth is halfway between Mars and the sun. As the sun sets in the west, Mars will rise in the east. Mars itself will actually be closest to the Earth, called perigee, on Oct. 6.
Early in this month of interesting pairings, Venus — the second brightest object in the sky ― and Regulus — a top 25 bright object in the sky — will rise in the morning and appear as a double star in the eastern sky.
As the moon’s phases change, we have the opportunity — if the weather cooperates — to see the Orionid meteor shower as the third week of October closes. This meteor shower is typically not as good as some others, but the meteors are known to leave long streaks of persistent trains, or ionized gas trails lasting a few seconds after the meteor itself has vanished. As with any night sky event, getting yourself into the darkest sky possible is best.
Finally, as we close out October, celebrate Halloween, and set the clocks back one hour, another full moon will rise. You will likely hear two names for the Halloween moon, including Hunter’s Moon and Blue Moon. In some Asian countries, this full moon corresponds to a traditional harvest festival and other local customs. The bottom line: Any clear night in October will provide an opportunity to enjoy our night sky. You just have to get out of the light pollution to see it all.
Follow Dave Epstein on Twitter @growingwisdom.