ADVERTISEMENT

ADVERTISEMENT

October brings Orionid meteor showers

Now that the fall equinox has come and gone, we're moving into the season when skies do some serious darkening. October nights reap this benefit in spades, while still retaining enough heat to make watching the stars a pleasure.

Now that the fall equinox has come and gone, we're moving into the season when skies do some serious darkening. October nights reap this benefit in spades, while still retaining enough heat to make watching the stars a pleasure.

The biggest spectacle opens on the 7th, when Venus and a waning crescent moon, flanked by the bright star Regulus above and Saturn below, gather in the eastern predawn sky. Venus, about as radiant as it gets, steals the show as usual. Saturn was much brighter several months ago, when more of its ring surface was tilted toward us. Nevertheless, it outshines Regulus, the brightest star in Leo. Look for the grouping around 6:30 a.m., or about 45 minutes before sunrise.

Jupiter lingers in the southwest after sunset but will make its exit in the next two months. The giant striped planet is clearing the way for Mars, which will soon flare into ruby brilliance. Earth, moving faster than either of these outer planets, is leaving Jupiter behind and speeding toward a close encounter with Mars in December. Mars, in Gemini, rises earlier each evening and brightens enough to more than hold its own amid the tapestry of winter stars.

The full hunter's moon arrives at 11:52 p.m. CDT on the 25th. It's called that because, as the full moon following the harvest moon, it shines down on fields now stripped of crops that used to hide game.

This is a great time of year to look for the Andromeda galaxy, the Milky Way's closest large neighbor. First find the Great Square of Pegasus high in the south and W-shaped Cassiopeia a little north of it. Andromeda appears as a fuzzy patch about midway between the two constellations, just east of a line connecting them. Andromeda is headed our way and may merge with the Milky Way in the next few billion years. If our sun is still around and able to support life when the collision starts, perhaps distant descendants of earthlings will witness the grand event.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Orionid meteors shoot from the club of Orion for a few days around the peak of the shower on the night of the 20th. But you'll probably have to wait until well past midnight, after a bright waxing moon has set.

October bows out with the granddaddy of Celtic holidays, Halloween. Known to the Celtic tribes as Samhain (rhymes with COW-en), it was one of four cross-quarter days falling midway between an equinox and a solstice. It also began the six-month dark season of the Celtic calendar. On that night, evil spirits that were banished during the summer months were suddenly loosed on the world and had to be warded off with fires or placated with food. Hence the custom of dressing like scary spooks and demanding treats from the neighbors.

Of course, most of the little ghosts and goblins ringing our doorbells that night won't care that Halloween's roots lie in the alignment of Earth and the sun. For them the holiday is strictly gastronomical, not astronomical.

What To Read Next