October 2023 Stargazing Guide

Posted on Sunday, October 1st, 2023

Greetings Junior Scientists, Scientists and Citizens of this great big weird, wild and wonderful world in which we live. As always I’m your humble science communicator, the great Orbax, coming to you from the Department of Physics at the University of Guelph and I’d like to welcome you to our October 2023 Star Gazing Guide!

Now that we've smashed past the Autumn Equinox our daylight hours are shortening. As a matter of fact by Halloween our sunrise will be as late as 7:55 am with sunset as early as 6:14 pm. This means that by the time Halloween is upon us we'll have up to 14 hours a night of prime Star Gazing action! And we're gonna need it because October is jam-packed with excitement AND, in a shocking twist, we're not even going to talk about stars! What ARE we going to talk about? This month we spot planets, are spoiled with TWO meteor showers and get a rare opportunity to view a partial solar eclipse. All this and more we just take some time... to look up.

If you want to try and spot a few planets the weather's only going to get cloudier as we head towards winter so now's your chance junior scientists! Mornings this month will bring Mercury and Venus. Mercury will be visible for the first week of October in the East, just before sunrise, but gets dimmer as the month goes on. Venus, however, is with us all month with its greatest elongation on October 24th. A 7:46 am sunrise means that Venus should be bright and visible in the morning sky in the East. Jupiter and Saturn continue to light up our nights. Jupiter will be hugging the morning moon on the first and Saturn will be visible nearing the waxing gibbous moon on October 23rd and the 24th.
And speaking of the Moon...

The full moon this month is on October 28th and as a matter of fact October 21st is International Observe the Moon Night on which we will be treated to a glorious first quarter moon. Check out the NASA page for details or your local chapter of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada if you're interested in meeting up to observe the Moon.

Settlers of North America would call the October full moon the Hunter Moon as we used to have to prepare food stores for the long winter ahead. Now the Hunter's Moon is simply the first full moon after the Harvest Moon meaning that it can take place in October or even early November. Around the Great Lakes region, the Anishinaabe call this moon Binaakwe-giizis, the Falling Leaves Moon – which follows the Changing Leaves Moon of September. The Cree Nation observe the start of bird migration by calling the October moon Pimahamowipisim, the Migrating Moon. The Mi'kmaw of Eastern Canada call the October Full Moon Wikewiku's - the Animal Fattening Moon as many animals get ready for winter hibernation.

With the full moon so late this month it should mean that the sky will be extra spooky for Halloween and if you're not careful you might even see...

This month we have two meteor showers to look for. The Draconids Meteor Shower Peaks October 18th as we pass through debris left by Comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Now this is a fairly minor meteor shower emanating from the constellation Draco the Dragon but as the month goes on we pass through the tail of Halley's Comet which lights up the sky in the annual Orionids Meteor Shower. This shower emanating from Orion the Hunter in the East and peaking on the night of October 20th in the morning of the 21st you should be able to see upwards of 20 meters per hour after midnight.

All right let's get into it.

For about two and a half hours on Saturday October 14th we're going to experience a partial solar eclipse here at Guelph, while other areas of North and South America will get an opportunity to experience what we call an annular solar eclipse. Most of us know that an eclipse occurs when the Moon, the Sun and the Earth line up along a straight line. This is called syzygy (cool word eh?) and depending on where you are on Earth this may cause the Moon to completely obstruct your view of the Sun thereby causing a solar eclipse.

But here's the thing, the Moon's orbit is elliptical so what happens if the Moon's at its farthest point away from the earth in that orbit when syzygy occurs? This is what we call an annular eclipse or a ring of fire eclipse. It results in a big black spot obscuring most of, but not all of, the Sun. The annular eclipse will be visible across a large swath of North and South America visible all the way from Eugene, Oregon to Natal, Brazil. From our vantage point we're only going to experience of partial solar eclipse with a maximum coverage of almost 30 % starting around noon and lasting till about 2:30 but with the peak at 1:09 pm. While solar eclipses are rare, we ARE going to experience another one next year on April 8, 2024 with a maximum coverage of 99.4 %!
I must warn you though, even if it's a partial eclipse, if you are going to take some time to look up only do it with approved eyewear.

What an exciting month to look forward to junior scientists! All these incredible phenomena to explore and we didn't even get a chance to talk about the Osiris-REX mission which returned NASA's first ever asteroid sample from space or Comet Nishimura making a brief appearance in our night skies! There's just so much out there! So much to learn and so much to see and so much to explore and all we have to do is take some time... to look up.

See you next month junior scientists and don't forget to have a science-tastic day!
Special thanks to Royal City Science's own planetary geo-chemist Dr Glynis Perrett for her help preparing our Star Gazing Guide. And the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.


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