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 2019:

The sun

The sun

With the sun having passed the fall equinox, we now experience more hours of darkness than light.

Additionally, because we are still using daylight savings time, our sunrise, midday, and sunset times are all one hour forward.

Here are the sunrise and sunset times for October:

October 1 October 15 October 31
Sunrise 7:24 am 7:42 am 8:04 am
Midday 1:15 pm 1:11 pm 1:09 pm
Sunset 7:06 am 6:40 pm 6:13 pm

The moon

The moon has long captivated observers of all ages. Even a pair of small binoculars will reveal the craters of the moon.

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

  • Waxing cresent on October 2
  • First quarter on October 5
  • Waxing gibbous on October 10
  • Full moon on October 13
  • Waning gibbous on October 17
  • Last quarter on October 21
  • Waning cresent on October 24
  • New moon on October 28

Graph split into the different moon cycles with images of what it looks like.

The planets

Watched at the same time night after night, both Jupiter and Saturn appear to move easterly as compared to the background fixed stars. However, the fixed stars appear to move westwards at a quicker pace. The net result is that the two gas giant planets set earlier and earlier throughout the month.

By month’s end, Jupiter sets around 8:30 pm and Saturn around 10:00 pm.

Turning towards the inner planets, both Venus and Mercury are moving from early morning objects to early evening objects. On November 11 at 10:1 9am, a fairly rare event will occur. Mercury will pass directly between the sun and the Earth. This event, known as a transit, occurs roughly 13 times per century (for Mercury).

More on this in next month’s “Eyes on the Skies.”

The moon

October meteor showers

October is an interesting month for meteor watching. There will be many smaller meteor showers that produce “meteor drizzles” rather than showers. These “drizzles” peak at between two to three meteors/hour.

However, two meteor showers do peak in October. The Draconids (which originate from the constellation of Draco the Dragon) peak on the night of October 8 this year. They usually display less than ten meteors per hour in dark skies.

Night sky with illuminated milky way

The Orionid meteor shower, with dust originating from comet Halley, is set to peak on the night of October 21. While this shower is known for consistent displays of around 25 meteors per hour (in dark skies) and, as it occurs on the night of last quarter moon, the showers will be great until around midnight when the moon’s light will block out many of the fainter meteors.

For a detailed explanation of meteor showers, check out this link.

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.