This month, see if you can spot the meteors from the Orionid meteor shower. (Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK)
Top three things to see this month
5th Oct – Catch Venus and Mars in conjunction in the east before dawn.
21st Oct – Look out for the Orionid meteor shower after midnight looking south-east.
27th Oct – View craters on the ‘terminator’ of the first quarter Moon after sunset in the south.
- Look for the conjunction of Venus and Mars – they’ll appear very close to the horizon so might be hard to spot, but they should be visible looking eastwards from 06:00am until dawn breaks.
- In the evening, catch the Harvest Moon (the closest Full Moon to the autumnal equinox). It’s also referred to in sky-lore as the Hunter’s Moon or the Blood Moon, but it isn’t a lunar eclipse which the phrase ‘Blood Moon’ is now most commonly associated with, so unfortunately we won’t get that deep red hue.
The Draconids will be the first of two meteor showers to grace our skies in October, peaking on the 8th. These meteors are best seen in the early evening but may be difficult to spot due to the moonlight of the waning gibbous Moon and the low hourly rate of meteors (roughly 10). You won’t lose any sleeping time or need any equipment so there’s no harm in trying to catch this elusive minor shower!
- The Moon reaches new Moon and if it’s a clear night and you’re away from light pollution, this would be the best time to look for faint objects such as neighbouring galaxies.
- On the same evening, Uranus is at opposition (so will be fully illuminated by the Sun) and it’s close to perigee (its closest approach to the Earth) making this an ideal opportunity to look for the planet. If you’ve got a telescope then head out after 19:00 and point it eastwards following Pisces, to find a green/blue spot of light.
The Orionid meteor shower peaks on the night of the 21st with an hourly rate of roughly 20. It’s one of two showers which originate from Comet 1P/ Halley. Look south-east after midnight; the meteors will seem to radiate from Orion but can be seen all over the night sky and the crescent moon will set early, leaving little in the way of interfering moonshine. These meteors are good photographic targets - streaking through the atmosphere at a speedy 66kms-1 they leave persistent trains at their most modest and fireballs at their most bold.
The Moon will appear in its first quarter phase after sunset between the constellations of Capricornus and Sagittarius in the south. It’s a brilliant chance to photograph the Moon as the lunar terminator (which is the line between the light and dark side) is clearly visible and lets us capture crater details that would even show up on mobile phones. The Moon will be in its waxing gibbous phase for the rest of the month.
The morning of the 29th marks the end of British Summer Time when the clocks go back. Though Deneb, Vega and Altair (the three stars of the summer triangle) will still be easy to spot looking south-west, you’ll notice Aquila and Altair creeping towards the western horizon and Capricornus disappearing in the south. A late nightly glance eastwards near the end of the month should let you observe Orion rising slowly back into view.
The Moon this month
- 5 Oct - full Moon
- 12 Oct – last quarter Moon
- 19 Oct – new Moon
- 27 Oct – first quarter Moon
Look Up! podcast
As well as taking you through what to see in the night sky each month, Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomers pick their favourite astro news story. For October, they’re chatting about Boron on Mars and how it provides clues to life on Mars in the past and the Cassini-Huygens mission – the highlights of its 20 year mission.
- When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you achieve night vision.
- Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing.
- If you are using a star app on your phone switch on the red night vision mode.
- Need a stargazing telescope or decent binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:
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Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year
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See more of the night sky
Come on an amazing tour of this month’s night sky in our Sky Tonight live planetarium show.
Central image: Rosa Mountain © Andrea Imazio