Thursday, October 6, 2011

October 2011, 10.06.11

We love autumn here. Cooler weather means clearer skies, which means much better sky watching for us! So, what sorts of things can we expect to see this month? Well…

The moon will be full on the 11th, and enter into its new phase by the 26th, so there will be excellent star gazing towards the end of the month, weather permitting.

There are a lot of sunspots going on right now, so if you have the proper sun spotting equipment, you can expect to see about 8 different spots. Forecasters are expecting about a 30% chance for a big flare some time in the next week or so.

Expect to catch glimpses of two meteor showers this month. The Draconids (named after the radiant point Draco, the constellation) will peak on the 8th and 9th. This is one of the less impressive showers of the year, with only a few mild yellow streaks here and there. Comet 21/P Giacobini-Zinner is responsible for the detritus that causes the Draconids.

The other shower this month is the Orionids. The Orionids (named after–you guessed it—Orion) will peak around the 21st and 22nd. Caused by comet 1P/Halley, it will be a little better than the Draconids, but still less than average with about 40 yellow and green meteors per second. The Orionids have been known to produce a few fireballs in the past, too. Remember, you will always get the best view of meteor showers if you get as far away from light pollution as possible. Find a big, wide field where you cannot see city lights glowing on the horizon for the best viewing experience.

Comet C/2009 P1 (Garrad) is moving across the lower half of the constellation Hercules, and is visible with binoculars (and good aim). has some good sky charts that you can use to get your bearings and track this comet.

Pegasus will be clearly visible this month. We challenge you to try to find galaxy M31 with a pair of binoculars. Trust us—it’s worth it!

Jupiter has been shining bright for some time now. You can check it out in the late night sky in the constellation Pisces. Mars will also be a bright red speck in the constellation Cancer this month, well before sun up. Remember: all the planets orbit along the ecliptic (the path of the sun across the sky), so you always look along that line to find them. It is about 23 degrees above the northern horizon, from east to west.