The Orionid meteors peak while the zodiacal light shines dimly.
A trio of bright planets await in evening twilight. Lowest, and most difficult to spot, is magnitude –1.8 Jupiter. Look for Big Jove as early as possible—it hovers just 5 degrees above the southwest horizon 45 minutes after sunset. At that same time, Saturn and Mars are also visible and much easier to appreciate. Saturn shines at magnitude 0.5 and sits some 20 degrees above the southwest horizon, while Mars gleams impressively in the south-southeast at magnitude –0.9. Although its disc has shrunk to a diameter of 13 arc seconds, the red planet is still reasonably well positioned. It climbs to the meridian at about 8:45 p.m., local daylight time, when it stands due south with an altitude of nearly 27 degrees, as seen from southern Ontario. However, the farther north you are, the lower the planet appears. For example, from Calgary, Alberta, Mars achieves an altitude of no better than 19 degrees.
The Moon reaches first-quarter phase today at 2:02 p.m., EDT.
This evening the waning gibbous Moon sits west of Mars in the centre of Capricornus. How near the Moon gets to the red planet depends on how late you look (the later the better) and how far west you’re situated. Observers on the West Coast get the best view and will see the lunar disc approach to within 3½ degrees of Mars before the pair set. That puts the duo close enough to each other to be viewed together in binoculars, though this will also be a fine naked-eye conjunction.
During the predawn hours, the Orionid meteor shower reaches its peak. This is a modest display made up of debris shed by Halley’s Comet, and under good conditions (a moonless sky and far from city lights) you can expect to see as many as a dozen Orionids per hour. As shown in the chart above, the radiant point lies between Betelgeuse and the eastern “foot” of Gemini. However, this year, a waxing gibbous Moon will interfere with meteor watching. The best time to look will be roughly between the hours of 4 a.m. and 6 a.m., local daylight time—after Moonset and before the start of morning twilight
The October 19 – 21 weekend is lit by a waxing gibbous Moon, which makes seeking faint fuzzies challenging in the evening hours. However, if you don’t mind rising early, this is one of the best times of year for viewing the elusive zodiacal light.
The pale glow of the zodiacal light arises from sunlight scattered by dust particles residing within the inner solar system. Look for an amorphous, cone-shaped luminance in the east before morning twilight begins. Usually, the zodiacal light is only about as bright as the winter Milky Way, which is why you’ll need to wait until after the Moon sets and observe from a location with a dark, clear sky to detect it.
You might find the phenomenon easier to capture with a camera than your eyes. To try your hand at photographing the zodiacal light, use a wide-angle lens (the widest you have), aim towards the east, and experiment until you find a combination of aperture, ISO, and exposure time that yields the best results. For the most natural colours, set your camera’s white-balance to “daylight.” And if you manage to get a good photo, please send us a copy.
At SkyNews we love to read about your experiences and see your photos. You can share them with us by e-mailing [email protected].