Night sky highlights - October 2018

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The best of astronomy this month: Catch a few meteors from the Orionids meteor shower on 21st-22nd October.

By Dhara Patel, Astronomy Education Officer

(Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK).

Top 3 things to see this month:

  • Throughout the month - Look for Mars in the southern sky in the early evening.
  • 11-15th Oct - Watch the Moon pass by Jupiter, the star Antares and Saturn over several evenings looking towards the south-west after sunset.
  • 21-22nd Oct - Scan the sky to spot a few meteors from the Orionids meteor shower after midnight.

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 the renewed interest in the Proxima b - the closest exoplanet to the Earth which scientists now think could be habitable and the first discovery made by TESS - the Transiting Exoplanet Survey Satellite which has only recently begun operating! Have a listen below then vote for your favourite news story on our Twitter poll during the first week of the month.

Our podcast is available on iTunes too - search Look Up! and rate us if you enjoyed listening.

RSS feed

Throughout October

Summer Triangle asterism

Although not as well placed in October, the Summer Triangle, made up of three of the brightest stars in the night sky, can still be picked out shortly after sunset. Look high up over the south western horizon and the trio act as a great landmark in the early evening. The brightest star is Vega, a mere 26 light years away. While closer to the horizon is Altair the brightest star in the constellation of Aquila the eagle. It too is relatively close at around 16 light years. However, the faintest of the group is Deneb - the tail star of the Great Swan. This star is faint because of its extreme distance - a staggering 2,600 light years. Just imagine how bright this blue white super-hot star would be if seen at the same distance as Altair.


Next, we have Pegasus - familiar as the winged horse. Weirdly, for those in the northern hemisphere, it appears upside down when artistically rendered. The main body of the constellation is made up of four stars, Alpheratz, Scheat, Markab and Algenib, referred to as the Great Square of Pegasus. Technically, the top left star, Alpheratz, is the brightest star in Andromeda - it picks out the head of the reclining maiden.

Andromeda galaxy

Andromeda contains two objects of easy-interest. The first is Almaak or gamma Andromadae. This is an easy double star located at the eastern end of an arch of stars making up the maiden’s body. A small telescope will reveal its two component stars. One is a blue white dense star the other a red giant. Andromeda also holds one of the furthest objects to be seen with the naked eye - the Andromeda galaxy. Some 2.5 million light years away it can be glimpsed in extremely dark skies with the unaided eye.

NASA image of the Andromeda Galaxy (Messier 31)
Image credit: NASA, JPL-Caltech

11-15 October

Moon, Jupiter, Antares, Saturn

The Moon reaches its new moon phase on 9th October – a perfect time to look for the faint and far away deep sky objects with no moonlight to interfere. But over the next few days the Moon will begin to wax and grow in its phases moving past other celestial objects until it reaches its first quarter phase just a week later. On the 11th, the thin crescent moon will be beside Jupiter in the south western sky just after sunset. By the 13th, the Moon will be closer to the red star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius and on the 15th it will have nestled to the left of another of the naked eye planets Saturn further to the south.

17 October

Mars and Moon

Mars is hanging around in the evening sky - as it falls behind the Earth in its orbital racetrack around the Sun. As it recedes from us it dims - somewhat less bright than it was at the end of July but still well worth a look. The naked eye reveals it to be a fairly bright star among those making up the constellation of Capricornus. It reddish tinge is obvious, while a small scope might reveal some of the large dark and light markings that cover its surface. If a little unsure as to its location, Mars will be to the left of a bright gibbous moon on the evening of the 17th - the next evening to its right.

21-22 October

Orionids radiant

The annual Orionids meteor shower is due to peak on the night of 21st and early morning of 22nd October but with the Moon set to reach full moon just a few days later there may be subpar views. Meteor showers are caused but the Earth ploughing into the debris left behind from comets orbiting the Sun. The comet responsible in this case is the famous Comet 1P/Halley more familiar to most as Halley’s Comet. This comet’s crumbs plough into the Earth almost head on making the Orionids meteors the fastest. The hourly rate is expected to be 20-30 but in some years it has been higher. Although not the most prolific shower, it’s worth trying to catch a few. Wait until after midnight looking to the south eastern sky where the radiant will appear in the constellation of Orion. Use your eyes to scan the sky and if possible head away from light polluted areas to give yourself the best chance of spotting them.

28 October

The 28th of October marks the end of British Summer Time (BST) which means that we turn our clocks back an hour at 2:00am. We’ll be graced with an extra hour of sleep and the evenings will be darker an hour earlier. And as we head into winter the hours of darkness will increase providing more stargazing time in darker skies to the pleasure of amateur and professional astronomers!

The Moon's phases this month

Color-Full Moon © Nicolas Lefaudeux
Color-Full Moon © Nicolas Lefaudeux
  • 2 Oct - last quarter moon (9:45am)
  • 9 Oct - new moon (3:47am)
  • 16 Oct - first quarter moon (6:02pm)
  • 24 Oct - full moon (4:45pm)
  • 31 Oct - last quarter moon (4:40pm)

See a selection of the amazing short-listed photographs like Color-Full Moon by Nicolas Lefaudeux from the 2018 Insight Investment Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition

The winners of this year's competition will be announced on 23rd October 2018.

Stargazing tips

  • 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 can achieve better 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're using a star app on your phone then switch on the red night vision mode.
  • Need a stargazing telescope or binoculars? Check out our range of high quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:

See our range of observing equipment

Share your astronomy pictures

Congratulations to Peter Goodhew for his beautiful image of the night sky. He shared his image on our astrophotography Facebook page and we chose it for October's banner image.

If you want to be in with a chance to showcase your astrophotography skills on the banner of next month's night sky blog, share your photos via our Royal Observatory Astrophotography Facebook group

You can also connect with us on Twitter: @ROGAstronomers

Hubble Vision - gallery exhibition

Orion Nebula © NASA, Hubble Space Telescope
Orion Nebula © NASA, Hubble Space Telescope

Come and see some of the most spectacular images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory Greenwich.

The exhibition is open daily until 12 May 2019.

See more of the night sky

Come on an amazing tour of this month's night sky in our Sky Tonight planetarium show delivered live by a Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomer.

See the Sky Tonight planetarium show

Central image: © Peter Goodhew

Resources for teachers and students 

The Royal Observatory learning team have also created:

Free animated videos that answer the biggest questions in astronomy and free resources to go alongside them.

You can find them here

ROG video 'Collisions and Explosions in the Universe'
ROG video 'Collisions and Explosions in the Universe'

A whole host of podcasts featuring interviews with real space scientists, astronauts and active researchers working in the UK Universities.

You can listen to these here

Prof Raman Prinja, Professor of Astrophysics at University College London
Prof Raman Prinja, Professor of Astrophysics at University College London