tent under night sky by lake

Eyes on the skies — October

Welcome to the Ontario Parks “Eyes on the skies” series. This will cover a wide range of astronomy topics with a focus on what can be seen from the pristine skies found in our provincial parks.

October is a month of transition as the last few warm days depart and we prepare ourselves for winter.

But cold weather does not mean we should abandon the great outdoors. On the contrary, the peace and serenity found at this time of the year make a trip to any park all the more enjoyable.

Here are our astronomical highlights for October, 2020:

The sun

The sun

The sun continue to appear lower and lower in the sky as it drives to its lowest point at the time of December’s winter solstice.

We now experience longer nights than days. While decreasing the amount of time for daylight activities, we can look forward to more time to appreciate the night sky’s splendours.

Here are the sunrise and sunset times for October:

October 1 October 15 October 31
Sunrise 7:24 am 7:43 am 8:05 am
Midday 1:15 pm 1:11 pm 1:09 pm
Sunset 7:05 am 6:39 pm 6:12 pm

The moon

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages.

October’s lunar phases of the moon occur as follows:

October lunar phases

Harvest and hunter’s moons

The yearly harvest moon occurs in the fall, and is so named because a full moon (closest to the autumn equinox) seems to rise for several consecutive nights. This provides extra time for farmers to harvest their crops.

The reason for this observation is due to the celestial mechanics of the ecliptic (the path the sun appears to take around Earth) and the location of the full moon.

Towards the end of October we will also have what many people call the hunter’s moon. This moon is named for the time when many people are in the middle of the annual hunt for food prior to the onslaught of winter.

Did you know many First Nations teachings, including those of the Anishinaabe and the Haudenosaunee people, use the back of a turtle’s shell as a lunar calendar?

Learn more here.

The planets — here comes Mars!

After being great visual objects all summer long, Jupiter and Saturn are starting to fade into the evening twilight.

Mars, on the other hand, is set to make one of the best appearances for the next 15 years — so don’t miss it!

view of mars

Is there life on Mars? Our Killarney observatory took a closer look… 

Comets and meteor showers

comet in sky

Almost as if to make up for the lack of good meteors in September, October presents us with two good meteor showers and a few weaker “drizzles.”

Major showers:

Date Meteor shower Maximum rate (if directly under)
Oct. 8 Draconids 20 meteors / hour
Oct. 20 Orionids 25 meteors / hour

Minor showers:

Date Meteor shower Maximum rate (if directly under)
 Oct. 5 Camelopardalids 5 meteors / hour
Oct. 9 Southern Taurids 5 meteors / hour
Oct. 10 Delta Aurigids 2 meteors / hour
Oct. 17 Epsilon Geminid 3 meteors / hour
Oct. 23 Leo Minorid 2 meteors / hour

Featured constellations

In last month’s edition we discussed Pegasus, Aquarius and the southern fish – Piscis Austrinus.

In October’s featured constellations, we discuss the more popular northern fish (Pisces), Aries the Ram, and Triangulum the Triangle.

Map showing all of the month's constellations.

This completes our review of the October skies…

Come back next month to learn about the greatest epic of constellations in the sky — the story of Perseus and Andromeda.

Want to learn more about the celestial history of Halloween? Click here.