What's Up in
SW Florida Skies
Moon Phases October 2021:
06 13 20 28
New 1Q Full Moon 3Q
Quick summary: three of the five classically-visible planets are in view before midnight during October, with brilliant Venus above the western horizon, while over to the South-SE, brilliant Jupiter and "respectably bright" Saturn are the brightest objects in their part of the sky. Jupiter is farther east and brighter than Saturn. High overhead soar the three stars of the Summer Triangle, Vega (the brightest and farthest west, but really starts out more than 70 degrees up and slightly north) in the constellation Lyra, the bright star Deneb (farther north, the "top" star in the Northern Cross, in fact) which is "the tail" (Deneb = "the tail" in Arabic) of Cygnus the Swan, and Altair, the bright eye of Aquila the Eagle, farthest east and south of the three. Although Halloween is traditionally related to the "cross-quarter day" (halfway between autumnal equinox and winter solstice), the actual date for that, this year, in our area is November 6th. Some years (and this year in Europe and Newfoundland) it's November 7th. The early evening has the Draconid meteors, looking toward the Big Dipper and Polaris (north) may give you some meteor sightings.
Meteor Shower Up Against Bright Full Moon
The Orionid meteor shower peaks Oct 20-21 -- the Orionids are considered one of the most beautiful showers of the year. Orionid meteors are known for their brightness and their speed. These meteors are fast—they travel at about 148,000 mph (66 km/s) into the Earth's atmosphere. Fast meteors can leave glowing "trains" (incandescent bits of debris in the wake of the meteor) which last for several seconds to minutes. Fast meteors can also sometimes become fireballs (bolides): Look for a few explosions of light when viewing the Orionid meteor shower.
As with most other meteor showers, the Orionids are best viewed looking eastward after midnight, or high in the south pre-dawn: the hours between midnight and dawn are usually best for meteor shower viewings. Unfortunately for meteor shower enthusiasts, the full moon will be making the sky brighter than usual, reducing the visibility of the Orionid shower, but given the possibility of some really bright ones, it's still worth a meteor watch!
The trail of space debris that interacts with our atmosphere as we cross Comet Halley's orbit creates the Orionids (officially it's Comet 1P/Halley). Each time that Halley returns to the inner solar system the tail "turns on" in the heat of the Sun and the Halley's nucleus sheds ice chunks and rocky dust into space, that stay along the same orbit but spread out a bit as they travel. The dust grains in the orbit that we actually intercept become the Orionids in October and the Eta Aquarids in May (yes, we cross Halley's orbit twice a year). Comet Halley takes about 76 years to orbit the sun once. The last time comet Halley was visible to naked-eye observers was in 1986. Comet Halley will not enter the inner solar system again until 2061.
The planetarium is presenting mask-recommended, safely-distanced planetarium shows 7 days/week at 12:15 pm and at 2:15 pm. Because a safely-spaced "space" show means less than 50% seating capacity, please check at the front desk and arrive fifteen minutes before the scheduled show time to be relatively sure of getting seats. We do have two hand sanitizer stations in the lobby, and we thank you for helping us keep everyone safe by distancing, wearing your masks (recommended especially if not vaccinated) throughout the show and using the sanitizer upon entry. Thank you!
Our theme for October 2021 is Spooky Cosmos, and our shows reflect that emphasis. We show 4-5 different planetarium shows this month, two on odd-numbered days and the other two on even-numbered days, so that visitors can attend planetarium shows at 12:15 pm and at 2:15 pm two days in a row and never see the same shows twice. Check the calendar and click on each item for a full description. We recently upgraded (8/2021) our surround-sound system, coupled with our new-in-2020 laser-phosphor projector (Digitarium Lambda Plus) this should provide an even better "being there" experience with all of our shows.
SUN, MOON AND PLANETS
Brilliant Venus is still our "evening star which is really a planet," so that is the bright dot you will see first in the West-SW right after sunset -- however, it has competition from brilliant Jupiter in the opposite direction (looking SE after sunset). Recently departed toward the Sun in our evening sky is planet Mercury, which will re-emerge on the other side as a predawn object as the month progresses, visible low in the eastern pre-dawn sky on October 31. We have lost the planet Mars in the skyglow of early evening as the Sun sweeps inexorably eastward against the background stars in the course of the month, but the Red Planet will return to the morning sky in December. On October 9th at 7:45 pm look southwest if you have a clear evening, and you may see the ghostly Moon, with the thinnest possible crescent illuminated, above and slightly to the right of the planet Venus in the early evening sky. Up and to the left of that pair, the red giant Antares will be shining very brightly. You can see the crescent Moon and Venus held in the claws of Scorpius the Scorpion!
Of course, this is temporary -- both the Moon and Venus are in motion (the Moon will be more than ten degrees farther to the East the next night). But I hope you get a clear sky to see this on the 9th!
In October, Venus is progressing eastward through the constellation Scorpius. As mentioned above, it will continue to be our super-bright "evening star which is really a planet" all through October. By the end of the month it will be entering Sagittarius, basically crossing in front of the Milky Way's Galactic Center, which is marked with a little circle on the image, above.
Above the southwestern horizon after sunset, you can admire the red giant star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius: the entire "curly J" shape of Scorpius is visible, tilting farther to the right as the night hours advance, until Scorpius sets. To the east of Scorpius you can see the "Teapot" of Sagittarius from early evening until just after Scorpius sets.
Well up in the west at sunset is another red giant, Arcturus. And to the east of that (practically overhead in early evening) is the Summer Triangle, with the bright stars Vega, Deneb and Altair, as mentioned in our introductory paragraph. The Summer Triangle straddles the Milky Way, and so do Scorpius and Sagittarius, so even if you can't see the Milky Way within the city's skyglow, you can still know where the plane of our galaxy is, from these bright stars.
If you prefer to orient yourself using the Big Dipper to the north, beware! It's still above the North-northwestern horizon at the start of the night, but it will set completely over the next few hours: yes, we live that far south, here in the lovely Fort Myers - Cape Coral - Naples area. We lose the Big Dipper for a few hours out of every 24, and winter is the time when that happens earlier in the night, so it's very noticeable!
This month's planetarium shows have descriptions posted in our calendar. Just click on the individual items for the relevant day in our Calendar to see a full description of the shows or events for that day.
Our friends at the SW Florida Astronomical Society's regular first-Thursday meetings are Zoom meetings for October (open to SWFAS members only unless arranged in advance, see their website for contact info and updates: www.theEyepiece.org . They hope to return to in-person meetings after the surge in covid has passed, although some of them are discovering that being able to attend SWFAS from anywhere in the world is actually pretty convenient!
To get a printable (black on white, saves ink) map of the night sky (note: N-S-E-W directions will only make sense if you hold the map overhead to look at it), visit the free download site of the AWESOME skymaps.com.
To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page.
Visit the Planetarium for updates on all of our space-related wonders! You can even rent the planetarium, for your own space-themed party, wedding, memorial service, meeting, meditation session, or other cosmic event. Don't forget the masks, though, please, whether regular or space-themed.
Hope to see you soon at the Center,
– Heather Preston, Planetarium Director