Can you believe it? October is here already!
There will be so much to keep us, stargazers, busy this month! Three showers, two full Moons, dazzling Mars… October 2020, here we come!
Are you more of an indoorsy space enthusiast? We put together a whole list of upcoming virtual public lectures and online events. You are welcome.
Here are the astro-dates to your October 2020 calendar.
Thursday October 1: Full Moon
Is it just us or does the Full Moon look especially beautiful in the Autumn?
The first Full Moon of the month, also known as Hunters Moon and Harvest Moon, will occur at 10:05 PM on October 1st.
Thursday October 1: Mercury reaches greatest elongation
You might have heard in the news that on October 1st Mercury “reaches greatest elongation” and therefore “will be the highest in the sky”. Maybe you are even planning on observing Mercury on October 1st. Well, unless you are in the Southern Hemisphere, don’t.
Not all elongations (that is when a planet is at a maximum angular distance from the Sun) are born equal. Unfortunately, while Mercury will make an appearance in the Southern skies this week, the Northern Hemisphere observers will have to wait a bit longer for a chance to spot the tiny planet.
You can use Mercury Chaser’s Calculator to help you determine dates, distances and magnitudes of Mercury elongations on any given year. This tool also provides the “horizon view” of a particular elongation from your observing site.
There will be lots of other planet sighting opportunities in October 2020: Jupiter and Saturn and Mars shine brightly as evening stars and Venus is up in the sky early in the morning.
Thursday October 8: Draconids Meteor Shower maximum
The Draconid Meteor Shower is a minor meteor shower that occurs between October 6 and 10.
The Draconid meteors come from the debris left by the comet 21O/Giacobini-Zinner. Every time our planet crosses the comet’s orbit, we pass through the ‘crumbs’ left behind by 21O/Giacobini-Zinner and it rains Draconids.
The name – Draconids – means that the radiant (the point in the sky where the meteors seem to be coming from) lies in the constellation Draco the Dragon.
In 2020 the shower peaks on October 8th when the Moon is 65% full. This is not ideal for observing meteors, so the key is to start early, before the Moon rises (check the moonrise times here). Luckily, unlike most meteor showers, the Draconids are best seen in the evening rather than after midnight. The expected hourly rate at peak is 5-10 meteors.
Saturday October 10: Last Quarter Moon
Last Quarter Moon, that is the Moon with its ‘left’ half illuminated (as seen from the Northern Hemisphere) will occur at 1:39 AM BST.
Tuesday October 13: Mars at opposition
We enjoyed the view of Red Mars in the sky all September. But things are about to get even better, for we are heading towards Mars opposition.
Opposition means “on the opposite side from the Sun on the celestial sphere”. That happens when the Earth passes between the Sun and Mars. Mars in opposition to the Sun is the closest it can be to the Earth in that particular point of the Earth’s orbit.
The October 2020 Mars opposition will be an especially spectacular one and Mars will shine very brightly all night long. We cannot wait!
Friday October 16: New Moon
The New Moon phase occurs when the Moon is in between the Sun and the Earth so that the sunlit surface of the Moon is facing away from us.
In professional observational astronomy moonless nights are referred to as dark nights. They are reserved for studying dim objects and blue light.
October 16-31: Exmoor Dark Sky Festival
The annual Exmoor Dark Sky Festival is back! It seems that in October 2020 all events are GO despite the corona situation. The program includes talks (both in-person and online), guided stargazing and, our favourite, sessions for beginner astrophotographers. You can find the full list of activities here. Book early to avoid disappointment!
Wednesday October 21: Orionid meteor shower maximum
The most famous October shower is the Orionid meteor shower, associated with the Halley’s Comet. Its radiant lies in the constellation Orion the Hunter, the best known and widely recognized “winter constellation”.
The Orionids are active from October 2 to November 7 with a peak on October 21st (but you can try October 20 and 22nd too) when we expect to see up to 20 meteors every hour. Early morning hours are best for meteors spotting, so set your alarm early and dress up warm!
Sunday October 25: British Summer Time (BST) ends
At precisely 2 AM on October 25th British Summer Time ends. That means the clocks go back an hour and we all get an extra hour of sleep. If you have a virtual overseas conference to attend [in another time zone], bear in mind that our local time for the next 6 months is Greenwich Mean Time. Plan accordingly!
October ??: Southern Taurids
Taurids is a minor meteor shower associated with the comet comet Encke. Observers recognize two streams of the shower: Southern Taurids, active between September 10 and November 20, and Northern Taurids, active between October 20 and December 9. If you look it up, you will notice that different sources place the maximum of the shower at different dates. The truth is, Taurids produce no sharp maximums and its meteors are slow and few. Still, the shower is famous for its occasional fireballs (very bright meteors), so keep an eye on the sky!
October 31 Full Moon
Full moon on Halloween night? How cool is that? This would be the second full Moon of the month, often called Blue Moon in the media.
Interestingly, the notion of Blue Moon as the second Full Moon in a calendar month came as a misconception. Originally, Blue Moon referred to the third out of four Full Moons in a given astronomical season (between equinox and solstice). But the misinterpretation stuck and there are now two accepted meanings of the term.
No matter what you call it, the important thing is: the Moon will not turn Blue.
Finally, here is the list of the virtual public talks that will take place in October 2020
(all times BST unless stated otherwise)
- 5 October 5 (7 PM EDT, that’s midnight BST, but you can watch the recording later) Hubble’s Troublesome Constant (by Carnegie Observatories)
- 6 October (3 PM EDT) The Nancy Grace Roman Space Telescope (by Space Telescope Science Institute)
- 7 October (7:15 PM) public talk Light: An Astronomer’s Best Friend (by Institute of Astronomy University of Cambridge)
- 7 October (7 PM EDT, but you can watch later) The Quantum Physicist as Causal Detective: live webcast (by Perimeter Institute)
- 12 October (7 PM) public talk What’s Up: Putting the Science into Stargazing (by Royal Observatory Edinburgh)
- 13 October (1 PM) public talk ExoMars PanCam and Planetary Protection (by Royal Astronomical Society )
- 14 October (7:15 PM) public talk The Brief History of the Universe (by Institute of Astronomy University of Cambridge)
- 15 October (10 PM EDT) public talk Galaxy of Horrors: Terrifying Real Planets (by NASA)
- 26 October (11 AM) online family workshop In the Night Sky (by Space Detectives)
- 26 October (7 PM) In Pursuit of Darkness (by Royal Observatory Edinburgh)
Read our post It is going to rain stars this month: Draconids and Orionids October showers to learn more about October meteor showers and their origin.
If you need help with identifying constellations and prominent stars, see Open source planetarium software and free night sky apps for stargazers. Alternatively, visit our Star Dome for a detailed tour of the virtual celestial heavens. For booking and other information about our Portable Planetarium, go to our website https://wonderdome.co.uk