This Week’s Sky: October 20 – 27

A partial solar eclipse and a shower of Halley’s Comet particles.

All Week

SW-Oct 22

Facing southwest on October 22, approximately 45 minutes after sunset.

It’s time to begin saying your goodbyes to Saturn. The planet is very low in the evening twilight and sets a little more than an hour after the Sun goes down. With effort, you’ll be able to glimpse it for a bit yet, but much depends on how unobstructed your west horizon is. Don’t worry though — Saturn will return in the morning sky in December. Meanwhile, Mars has crossed over into Sagittarius. The red planet glows gamely at magnitude 0.9, but its low altitude makes it less than conspicuous. The best telescopic planet at the moment is Jupiter. It rises at about 1:30 a.m., local daylight time, and is good and high by the start of morning twilight. Finally, keep an eye (well protected, of course) on the Sun this week as a large sunspot makes its way across the solar disc.

October 20

Another window of opportunity for observing the zodiacal light opens this morning. Look for a faint, cone-shaped glow emanating from the eastern horizon in the predawn sky.

October 21

Orionid radiant

This illustration indicates the position of the Orionid meteor shower radiant.

The Orionid meteor shower is at its best in the predawn sky this morning. The Orionids are debris shed by Halley’s Comet, and typically have a ZHR (Zenithal Hourly Rate — the number of meteors an observer would see under ideal conditions) of 20 per hour. Since the Moon is only a thin crescent, this should be a good year for the display. The meteors will appear to radiate from a patch of sky just north of Orion.

October 23

This simulated view shows the partial eclipse under way. Courtesy Gary Seronik

This simulated view shows the partial eclipse under way. Courtesy Gary Seronik

Today is not only new Moon, but the date of a partial solar eclipse. (Of course, the only phase of the Moon that can eclipse the Sun is “new.”) The eclipse will be visible across most of North America, with the West Coast being favoured. Here in Victoria, British Columbia, for example, at 2:44 p.m., PDT, the solar disc will be nearly two-thirds covered by the Moon. Observers in Toronto, however, will see just a little bite taken out of the Sun as it sets. As an added bonus, a big sunspot is making its way across the solar disc at the moment and should be near the centre of the Sun by eclipse time. For more on observing the event and how it will look from your location, check out our eclipse preview article.

October 25

Saturn and Moon

Saturn and the Moon setting, as seen in 10×50 binoculars.

Up for a challenge? If so, get out your binoculars this evening and see if you can find the thin crescent Moon and Saturn together in the same field of view. The pair will be very low in the western sky as twilight fades. From Toronto, Saturn sets at 7:23 p.m., EDT, with the Moon following close behind.

Weekend Stargazer

SW-evening sky

The evening sky, facing southwest. (Click on the image for a larger version.)

The end of October is an interesting time in the sky. Although cooler weather provides a constant reminder that the seasons have changed, the sky behaves as if it isn’t quite willing to admit that summer is really over. On the October 24 – 26 weekend you can still enjoy many of the same constellations that have been around for months. The Summer Triangle (consisting of Vega, Altair, and Deneb) is still well positioned, and if you get out early enough, you can still spend time exploring the Sagittarius Milky Way. Even Hercules and magnificent M13 are still up for grabs.

This extended celestial summer is a result of our northerly latitude. Although the constellations that dominated from June to August now set earlier and earlier, the nights are growing longer and longer at the same time. Cygnus the Swan benefits most richly from this effect. It first appears in the evening sky in April and can still be seen even in February! But take a little time this weekend to enjoy the treasures that these constellations hold before cloudy weather dictates the terms their of surrender.

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