The fall is here in the Northern Hemisphere. The nights are getting longer and colder. With the seasons, even the night sky is in transition. Soon the night sky will be decorated with prominent winter constellations such as the Orion, Taurus, Leo, etc. September 2020 didn’t have much in its store for astronomy enthusiasts. But October 2020 is going to be super exciting. Packed with seven meteor showers and two planetary oppositions, here are all the major astronomy events in October 2020.
October 1: Andromeda Galaxy Is Placed Well
The month will begin with the Andromeda galaxy at culmination. An object is said to culminate when it reaches the highest point in the sky. The closest major galaxy will be visible all night. At a magnitude of +4.4, it will be visible to the naked eyes. You will have to find a dark location away from city lights. These space apps will help you locate the galaxy.
October 2: Full Moon
The Moon will reach its full phase on October 2. The October Full Moon is also known as the Harvest Moon.
October 3: Lunar Occultation of Mars
The Red Planet will be ‘eclipsed’ by the Moon on October 3. An occultation is an astronomical event that occurs when one object is hidden by another object that passes between it and the observer. In other words, when the object in the foreground blocks the view of the object in the background, it is called an occultation.
This is the second occultation in just 56 days. The last occultation took place on September 6. Lunar occultations are only ever visible from a small fraction of the Earth’s surface. Since the Moon is much closer to the Earth than other celestial objects, its exact position in the sky differs depending on your exact location on Earth due to its large parallax. The position of the Moon as seen from two points on opposite sides of the Earth varies by up to two degrees or four times the diameter of the full moon.
This means that if the Moon is aligned to pass in front of a particular object for an observer on one side of the Earth, it will appear up to two degrees away from that object on the other side of the Earth. For the rest of the world, the Moon will appear to pass very close to the Red Planet in the constellation of Pisces.
The map below from in-the-sky shows the places where the occultation can be seen from Earth.
October 5: October Camelopardalid Meteor Shower
The October 2020 Camelopardalid meteor shower will be active from 5 October to 6 October, producing its peak rate of meteors around 5 October. From much of the Northern Hemisphere, the radiant (the point in the sky from where all the streaks appear to originate) of this shower is circumpolar which means the shower will be active throughout the night. However, the Moon, in Aries, will be only 4 days past full phase at the shower’s peak, presenting significant interference throughout the night.
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October 6: Mars At Perigee
This is the flagship astronomy event of October 2020. On October 6, Mars will make its closest approach to the Earth. At an apparent magnitude of -2.60, it has already outshone Jupiter and Sirius (the brightest star in the night sky). As we discussed in the previous articles, this is the best show of Mars in years to come.
Mars appears as a bright red speck in the night sky. Its angular diameter has increased significantly over the past few weeks. It’s the best time to photograph the planet. At its closest approach, Mars will be 0.41 AU away from us.
October 8: Draconid Meteor Shower
The second of the seven meteor showers in October 2020, draconid meteor shower will be active from 6 October to 10 October, producing its peak rate of meteors around 8 October. The radiant of the shower lies in the constellation of Draco. The Moon, in Taurus, will be in its last phase and won’t affect the shower much.
October 10: Southern Taurid Meteor Shower
The Southern Taurid meteor shower will be active from 10 September to 20 November, producing its peak rate of meteors around 10 October. At its peak, the shower is expected to produce up to 5 meteors per hour. The radiant of this shower lies in Cetus. The shower will peak close to the new moon, and so moonlight will present minimal interference.
October 11: Delta-Aquarid Meteor Shower
The δ-Aurigid meteor shower will be active from 10 October to 18 October, producing its peak rate of meteors around 11 October. The radiant of this shower lies in Auriga.
October 14: Mars At Opposition
In celestial mechanics, a planetary opposition occurs when the Earth lies between the Sun and the planet with Earth being on the same side of the planet as shown below:
During opposition, the planet lies opposite to the Sun. Hence, it rises around the sunset, reaches the highest point in the sky around midnight, and sets at dawn. This is the best time to observe a planet. Every superior planet makes its closest approach to Earth once a year i.e. each of them is at opposition on a particular date. The oppositions of Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, and Neptune are more or less the same each year. But this is not the case for Mars, which has a highly elliptical orbit.
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Due to an elliptical orbit, a planet reaches its perihelion and aphelion. Although the distance from the Sun varies by just 3% for the Earth, in the case of Mars, owing to the high eccentricity, the distance varies by 20%.
You can see from the above image how eccentric the Martian orbit is as compared to the Earth. During an aphelion opposition that takes place around March, the distance between the two planets is still 0.66 AU. But, during the August-September opposition, also known as the perihelion opposition, Mars can come within 0.41 AU of the Earth, appearing 60% larger than at a March opposition, and a whole magnitude brighter.
October 17: New Moon At Perigee
The Moon will pass too close to the Sun and will be lost in its glare for a couple of days. At the same time, it will reach the closest point along its orbit to the Earth
October 18: ε-Geminid Meteor Shower
The fifth of the seven meteor showers in October 2020 is the ε-Geminid. It will be active from 14 October to 27 October, producing its peak rate of meteors around 18 October. At its peak, the shower is expected to produce a nominal rate of around 3 meteors per hour. The shower will peak close to new moon, and so moonlight will present minimal interference.
October 21: Orionid Meteor Shower
The best meteor shower of October is the Orionid meteor shower, active from 2 October to 7 November, producing its peak rate of meteors around 21 October. The radiant of this shower lies in the constellation of Orion as shown below:
At its peak, the shower is expected to produce a nominal rate of around 15 meteors per hour. You don’t need any telescope to relish the meteor shower. Just find a dark place away from light pollution and give your eyes at least 30 minutes to adapt to the darkness. You may use these space apps to locate the shower’s radiant easily.
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October 22: Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter
A short break from the meteor showers! On October 22, the Moon and Jupiter will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°00′ to the south of Jupiter. The Moon will be 6 days old. After its opposition on July 14, Jupiter has dimmed significantly. It shines with Saturn and the two planets dominate the sky post dusk. The Moon and Jupiter will be too wide to fit in the view of a telescope. Jupiter will be at mag -2.2, in the constellation Sagittarius.
October 22: Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn
After a close encounter with the largest planet of our solar system, the Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 2°34′ of each other. The Moon will be 7 days old. The Moon will be at mag -11.8; and Saturn will be at mag 0.3. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius.
October 24: Leonis Meteor Shower
The trail of meteor showers will end on October 14 with the Leonis meteor shower. As the name suggests, its radiant lies in the constellation of Leo Minor. At its peak, the shower is expected to produce a nominal rate of around 2 meteors per hour.
October 29: Conjunction of the Moon and Mars
The Moon and Mars will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°58′ to the south of Mars. The Moon will be 13 days old. The Moon will be at mag -12.5 in the constellation Cetus, and Mars at mag -2.2 in the neighbouring constellation of Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.
October 31: Blue Moon and Uranus at Opposition
The Blue Moon refers to the second Full Moon within a single month. The Moon will reach its full phase on the Halloween. On the same day, (planet) Uranus will make its closest approach to the Earth. This is the second planetary opposition in the month of October 2020. Uranus, however, will not be visible with the naked eye.