This is an updated version of a post from October 2018.
Hey, Sky Fans!
What’s happening? Something good I hope. I got one of those vanilla Tootsie Rolls, so things are… all right. You know how it is. Hey, if you happen to be tuning in from Tootsie HQ, here’s your million dollar idea: put the vanilla Tootsie Rolls in the middle of the orange Tootsie Pops.
Enough about candy, but October’s full of it; it’s everywhere. You know what else it’s full of?
What are meteor showers?
Mixed in among all the planets (dwarf, major or otherwise), moons, and other stuff is some leftover crud that either didn’t mange to get pulled into something bigger, or it was kicked off when a couple of bigger things crashed into each other. Or, maybe broke free of a passing comet. These meteoroids often orbit the Sun in and sometimes cross Earth’s orbit. When Earth runs into it, some burns up high in our atmosphere and streak across the sky. We call these burning streaks meteors. Meteors can happen any night of the year. In fact, somewhere between 18,000 and 84,000 meteors greater than 10 grams hit Earth each year. Many of the ones we see, are even smaller, just the size of a grain of sand. That’s a lot of astroschmutz! If you want to read some more about the difference between meteors, meteoroids and meteorites, check out this old post I did.
There are quite a few of meteor showers each year, some big and famous, some not. Meteor showers are named for their radiant, which is the part of the sky the meteors appear to come from, or radiate from. They can come from any part of the sky, but most look to come from the radiant. For instance, summertime’s famous Perseids look to come from the constellation Perseus. October, along with all the other great things it has going for it, has six! Only December has more.
Meteor showers are naked-eye-only things. Big lenses will just make things more difficult, but, of course, you can use them to look at other things. All you need to do is find a good place as far from bright lights as possible, bring a lawn chair or a picnic blanket, lie back, wait for your eyes to adjust, relax and enjoy the show. Oh, yeah, it’s October, so make sure you dress warm enough.
So, here they are:
Six October Meteor Showers!
- Draconids! The first meteor shower of October has its radiant in Draco, the dragon, which was made famous in the Harry Potter books, is a huge, twisting constellation wedged into the middle of the sky between the Big Dipper (Plough) of Ursa Major and Vega & Deneb, two thirds of the Summer Triangle. The peak is around October 8. So, look to the northwest, find the Big Dipper and you’re on your way to seeing the leftovers from the comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Draco is high enough in the sky early enough for you to have an easier chance to see something.
- Southern Taurids! The Taurids is one of my favorites, and is the first of four this month that are near the stars of the Winter Circle (read on). It’s already ramping up and will, all the way into November. This shower’s peak is around October 10. The debris from comet Encke are usually bigger than sand, more like the size of rocks and even boulders. So, these meteors are usually bigger and brighter than others, and they’re move slower, too. I don’t spend a lot of time with meteor showers, honestly, but I always make time for this one. I’ve even seen a couple of stunningly bright, long-trailed ones that have been really incredible. These come from the direction of Taurus, the bull, which is just starting to make its way into the night after sundown. You’ll have to wait until deep into the night, but this shower might be worth it. You might even see some Halloween night!
- Delta Aurigids! The Delta Aurigids are a minor shower whose radiant is near the star Delta Aurigae. To find these, just look for the bright yellowish star Capella, in the north west deep in the night. You’ll see sort of a ring or hexagon of stars around it just off to the left of the familiar faces of Taurus and Orion. The peak of this one is around October 11.
- Epsilon Geminids! Shuffling off the comet C/1964 N1, the epsilon Geminids are in the same general area of the sky as the Delta Aurigids and the Southern Taurids, but this time we’re in the constellation Gemini, the twins. This shower appears to come from near the star Epsilon Geminorum, also called Mestuba (more on that another time), which is the constellation’s fifth brightest, not that that’s really helpful. It’s good enough to just look for the Castor and Pollux, the twins. The meteors will come from out thataway. Thi one peaks around October 18. This isn’t the same shower as the famous Geminds. Those are in December.
- Orionids! Now that you’ve found a bunch of the stars of the Winter Circle while you hunt down other meteor showers, look for the stars of Orion, the hunter. The Orionids peak near the star Betelgeuse around October 21, when you’ll be able to see leftover bits from the super-famous Halley’s Comet, which last sped through our neighborhood in 1986, and won’t be back again until 2061. These meteors usually put on a good show.
- Leo Minorids! It’s a minor shower, but it counts. The Leonis Minorids’ radiant is the small constellation Leo Minor, and peaks around October 24.
So, there you have it. Six October meteor showers. I hope you’ll be able to spot a few.
Thanks for stopping by, and clear skies, everyone!