Orionids, Conjunctions, and a Parade of Planets: Here’s what October 2019 has in store for you

The previous month has finally introduced the much-awaited autumn equinox, which means October jumpstarts the last hurrah for longer observation nights in 2019.

To begin with, this month, expect the Sun to rise between 6:14 A.M. and 6:28 A.M., and to set between 6:10 P.M.and even as early as 5:43 P.M.

October also opens with an almost moonless night, and also milder weather, so skywatchers better prep up early for more time to catch your favorite deep-sky objects and planets.

The month also ushers in for 2019 the two important annual events in the world of astronomy—theInternational Observe the Moon Night (InOMN)and the World Space Week (October 4 to 10).

Here’s what October has in store for every astro buff not only in the United Arab Emirates but also around the world:

Front Act: Draconid Meteor Shower

On October 8, the Draconid meteor shower, aka the Giacobinids, is expected to peak at nightfall or early evening.

But since it’s going to be a moon-drenched sky, chances of seeing this minor meteor shower would be little. The special thing about this meteor though, is that unlike most of the meteor showers that we know, it’s best viewed in every evening instead of the wee hours of the morning.

Draconids come from the dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was first discovered in 1900.

Main Show: Orionid Meteor Shower

On the late evening hours of October 21 until the dawn of October 22, one of the best annual meteor showers is set to peak at an average of 10 to 20 meteors per hour under completely dark, moonless, and cloudless skies.

These meteors will appear to radiate from the Orion constellation (The Hunter) but can be observed anywhere in the sky beginning at midnight.

Despite its name, the Orionid meteors are space debris from the famous Halley’s Comet scraping against the Earth’s atmosphere.

Just a caveat, though: observing the meteor shower for this year will be a little challenging since the moon will in its waxing gibbous phase. There may be fewer meteors to be seen than expected. A must-have in observing this astronomical phenomenon is lots of patience and comfort.

The position of Orionids radiant. (Illustration courtesy of Stellarium)

Moon’s October Schedule

For anyone who wants to see the Earth’s satellite completely soaked in the Sun’s light, keep your heads up on October 13 for the Moon’s full phase. This is a great chance to see your favorite craters and maria, or the dark patches on the Moon’s surface.

Full Moon taken on September 14using Meade LX850 16”/6.3 Telescope and Canon EOS 1D DSLR.(Image Credit: Aldrin B. Gabuya/Al Sadeem Astronomy)

If you’re waiting for the Moon to wane completely, mark your calendars on October 28, a New Moon. This lunar phase is predicted to happen on this day. However, the month transition from Safar to Rabi al-Awwal shall take place two days later (October 30) in accordance with the Hijri Calendar 1441.

Since it will be more than a weak of no-to an almost no-Moon, several deep-skies objects such as nebulae, star clusters, and galaxies can be seen through binoculars, cameras with wide-angle or zoom lens and more preferably, telescopes.

Thanks to early sunsets, avid sky observers can begin watching the Milky Way and its huge cluster of deep-sky objects earlier as it will set a bit quickly in the night (roughly at nine in the evening.)

Meanwhile, some known autumn deep-sky objects such as the majestic Messier 31 (M31) or Andromeda Galaxy, the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, and the Orion Nebula will begin appearing later in the night at 9 P.M.

Conjunction and close approaches

OCTOBER 3: MOON-JUPITER CONJUNCTION. The bright Waxing Crescent Moon and the largest planet Jupiter will be spotted juxtaposed each other in the sky. It will be seen right after sunset (around 6:20 P.M.) until 9:30 P.M.

Moon-Jupiter Conjunction on October 3 after sunset at around 6:30 P.M. (not to scale). (Illustration courtesy of Stellarium)

OCTOBER 5: MOON-SATURN CONJUNCTION. It’s the Ringed Planet Saturn’s turn to sit next to the bright Waxing Crescent Moon. The close approach will be seen at the east-southeastern horizon right after sunset (around 6:20 P.M.) until 11 P.M. when Saturn will set earlier.

Moon-Saturn Conjunction on October 6at around 7 P.M. (not to scale). (Illustration courtesy of Stellarium)

Planet Parade

Planets Jupiter and Saturn can be easily observed right after sunset along the southwestern portion of the sky. Gas giants Uranus and Neptune could be seen using a large telescope from 8 P.M. onwards. Meanwhile, planets Mercury, Venus, and Mars will be barely or not visible due to its close proximity with the Sun in the sky.

OCTOBER 20: MERCURY AT GREATEST EASTERN ELONGATION. Mercury, the smallest planet in the Solar System, will appear at its highest point just a few moments after sunset. In the UAE, the maximum extent of angular separation from the Sun as seen from Earth will be at 11°. Though it is moderately bright, observing it will be quite difficult since Mercury is very near the Sun in the sky by this time.

Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation (at 11° above the eastern horizon) few minutes before sunrise on October 20 (not to scale). (Illustration from Stellarium)

OCTOBER 28: URANUS AT OPPOSITION. On this day, the blue gas giant Uranus will appear at its brightest. Neptune will be situated directly opposite of the Sun in the sky which would give it further glow. However, it cannot be easily seen through the naked eye.

When viewed through high-powered telescopes, it would look like a slightly faint bluish star-like dot. Long-exposure photography is highly suggested to reveal its gaseous detail and moons.

The planet will be visible all night round beginning 8 P.M.when it is high enough for good planetary observation (about 30° above the eastern horizon), and reaches its highest point (around 77° above the southern horizon) at midnight.

Uranus and its moons taken using Celestron 11-inch SCT, 2.5x Barlow and Canon EOS 1D Mark IV. (Image courtesy of Stellarium)

OCTOBER 31: MOON-JUPITER CLOSE APPROACH. The Moon-Jupiter tandem will close October in a full circle. The pair will be seen right after sunset (around 6 P.M.), with the Waxing Crescent Moon at 1° east of Jupiter, which will appear as a bright non-blinking white “star.”

Moon-Jupiter close approach on October 31after sunset at 6:30 P.M. (not to scale).