NASA has released a guide to the night sky in October advising that planetary giants, partial eclipses, and meteor showers will all be visible this month.
The space agency notes that stargazers will find Jupiter and Saturn southeast in the early evening and the pair will gradually move westward over the course of the night. The two gas giants will form a triangle with Fomalhaut, a bright star found in the “Southern Fish” constellation.
“When observing this trio, note how the planets shine with a steady light, while the star twinkles. This can be an easy way to know if what you’re looking at is a planet or a star,” writes NASA on its blog.
Mars has been moving east all year but in October it will reverse course and start to head westward. It will continue in this direction until January when it will continue its eastward journey.
This phenomenon is called the retrograde motion of Mars and it happens roughly every two years. The illusion is caused by the differing orbits of Earth and the Red Planet.
About every 26 months Earth overtakes Mars and during this period Mars appears to change direction in the sky, even though it is still continuing with its normal orbit.
This was once a great mystery in astronomy but it is now known to be the sign that two planets are passing each other.
Meteors, Moons, and a Partial Eclipse
The Orionid meteor shower peaks during mid-October each year and is a highlight of the comet calendar. It is expected to be at its strongest on October 20, producing 10 to 20 meteors per hour.
Meanwhile, October’s full moon will come in on October 9 with the new moon arriving on October 25.
And on the same date as the new moon, the Sun will undergo a partial eclipse as it appears that a bite has been taken out of it.
The moon’s shadow will fall on parts of the Earth, unfortunately not in the U.S. where it won’t be visible. However, swathes of Africa, Asia, and Europe will be able to see it, the best vantage point will be from Russia and the north pole.
Image credits: NASA, ESA, CSA, STScI