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October A Perfect Month To Explore The Night Sky

October is the sweet spot of autumn. You probably already have a list of outdoor activities to check off your list: pumpkin patches, corn mazes, fall color hikes and trick-or-treating of course!

(Photo via Shutterstock)

Here is one more outdoor activity to add to that list — stargazing. Cuddle up with a pumpkin spice drink and keep your eyes on the sky for these upcoming astrological events.

Howl at the moon

October starts and ends with a full moon. First up is the hunter’s moon or harvest moon on October 1. Historically it was a very common practice to mark the seasons by following the lunar months instead of the solar year. Lunar months mark the time between two full moons. There are 13 full moons each year, so that means lunar years have 13 months. Today, we base our years around the sun. This called the solar calendar, and it has only 12 months.

The hunters moon got its name because this is the time of year when game is fattening in preparation for winter, making it an ideal target to hunt. Every three years, this moon is also a harvest moon because it is the closest to the autumnal equinox. This equinox marks the start of fall.

As a bonus for us this month, on October 31 there will be a blue moon. This may ring a bell if you have heard the phrase, “Once in a blue moon.” A blue moon is when there are two full moons in one month. The second full moon is called the blue moon. It doesn’t happen very often, usually once every two to three years. A blue moon on Halloween night is even rarer! The next time we will be trick-or-treating with a blue moon is in 2039.

The moon will not look blue on the night of the blue moon. When a moon appears blue in the night sky, it means the atmosphere is filled with dust or smoke particles. This has happened with volcanic eruptions like the United States’ Mount St. Helens in the 1980s or Philippines’ Mount Pinatubo in 1991.

Wish upon a star

October has many meteor showers! The first of these, the Draconids meteor shower, will peak October 7. Meteors from the Draconids will be radiating from the constellation Draco. It is an unusual shower because the best time to view it is early evening, versus early morning like most showers. The “shooting stars” in the Draconids meteor shower are produced from leftover dust grains from a comet discovered in 1900s called 21P Giacobini-Zinner.

The largest of October’s three meteor showers will be the Orionids meteor shower, which can produce as many as 20 meteors per hour at its peak. Look for these shooting stars by the constellation Orion on the night of the October 21 and the morning of the October 22.

End the month by looking up at the southern Taurids meteor shower, which is a long-running shower spanning from September 10 to November 20. The peak viewing time is the night of October 29 and morning of October 30. The full moon will make it tricky, but the southern Taurids are known to show off a higher percentage of bright fireballs.

The red planet

Mars will be shining bright! On October 13, Mars will be in opposition to Earth. This means Earth will lie directly between Mars and the sun. It is a big deal for Mars, because usually it is far away from Earth. When Mars is at opposition, it appears bigger in the night sky and is the second-brightest planet after Venus. With your naked eye, it will look like a pinkish-red color in the sky. The Mars opposition happens once every 26 months.


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