Sky-Watch October 2017 – Planets and Meteoroids

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Orionid Meteor Shower

I hope all sky-watchers have great eclipse viewing stories to tell, and memories of it that still fill you with awe.  For me, seeing my first total solar eclipse was everything I had thought and hoped it would be.  My wife and I saw it from Spring City, Tennessee, on a perfectly clear day.  We marveled at the crescent-shaped sun images cast onto the ground as the eclipsing Sun shone through leaves before totality.  We were struck by the odd darkening all around as full totality approached, that was so different than the darkening that happens as the sun sets.  And the moment when totality began truly brought tears to my eyes.  The word “awesome” gets thrown around a lot these days in everyday speech —– often for things not really that awesome.  But I can tell you; total solar eclipses are totally awesome!!

I am now eager for the next eclipse that will happen over America in just 7 years (2024).  This one’s totality time will be nearly twice as long as this year’s eclipse, and the path of totality will pass through states from Texas to Ohio and into Canada.  I plan to be in Ohio for this one.  Early October gives us a brief last chance to see Jupiter for awhile, but very low in the southwest sky a half hour after sunset.  By the 15th of October, it will be behind the sun, not to re-emerge until November before dawn in the eastern sky.  Saturn is just 20 degrees above the southwest horizon as full darkness falls, remaining conspicuous there at magnitude +0.5 all month.  Those with telescopes can get a very good of Saturn’s rings now because the rings are tilted 27 degrees to our line of sight.

Mars

Early morning views into the eastern sky before dawn will give us good views of Mars and Venus all month.  In fact, the two planets have a very close conjunction in the first five days of October and then have several conjunctions with stars during the rest of the month.  On October 1st, the two planets will appear just 2.5 degrees apart against the background stars of Leo.  Venus at magnitude –3.9 is brilliant white, while Mars at +1.8 is a dull red.  The gap between Mars and Venus closes until on the morning of October 5th they will be only 0.2 degrees apart!  This is just half the full moon’s apparent diameter.  As both planets move eastward across the sky in their respective orbits they will move into Virgo; Venus on October 9th, and Saturn on October 12th.  As they do they will appear to pass various background stars and form conjunctions with them as they do.

But the most spectacular conjunction will happen on October 17th, when the 5% lit waning crescent moon passes the two planets.  On the 17th the moon will be seen 2 degrees to the left of Mars and 6 degrees above Venus!

 

Halley’s Comet last appeared in our skies more than 30 years ago, but it still makes its presence known.  Every October Earth plows into debris left behind by Halley, and this dusty, chunky debris burns up in our air, causing flashes of light we call shooting stars, or meteors.  These appear to come from the constellation Orion the hunter, giving these meteors the name, the Orionid Meteor Shower.  It should be a good year for the Orionids, because there will be no moon in the sky when the shower peaks before dawn on October 21st.  Ideal time to look is from 2 to 5 am; direction is southeast; and a maximum of up to 20 meteors an hour is likely.

Moon Phases:  Full on the 5th; Last Quarter on the 12th; New Moon on the 19th; and 1st Quarter on the 27th.

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