MANITOBA SKIES – October 2019
Contributed by Claire Woodbury, Science Communicator
Fall might just be the perfect time for stargazing as we are moving away from short summer nights into long winter nights but without as much of a sting from Jack Frost. Scroll down for a calendar of celestial sights to watch out for in the month of October.
Prominent Autumn constellations include Cetus the sea monster, poised to devour the princess Andromeda who is ultimately rescued by the hero Perseus. The Andromeda Galaxy (M31), our closest nearest neighbour galaxy at 2.5 million light years away, is visible in dark skies as a fuzzy blotch on Andromeda’s hip.
We’ll be saying goodbye to the summer stars in early evening (such as Deneb, Altair and Vega which make up the prominent asterism, the Summer Triangle) and saying hello to the winter stars after 10 pm. Bright red Aldebaran will be visible at 11 o’clock, rising earlier as the month progresses. To the Seri people of Mexico, October is called Queeto yaao or “Aldebaran’s Path”.
Based on our latitude here in Winnipeg, our familiar friends the Circumpolar Constellations will be visible all year long. Ursa Major, Ursa Minor and Cassiopeia can easily be seen from the city in the north.
Southern hemisphere constellations are mostly not visible from our latitude, with the occasional one just skirting the horizon. One such constellation is Pisces Austrinus (the southern fish), visible just after sunset until 2 am (midnight by the end of the month) in the southern sky. You can see magnitude 1.2 star Fomalhaut in the very front of the fish. Lovecraft horror fans might recognize Fomalhaut as the home of the mythical Cthugha, an elemental spirit of fire. Astronomers recognize it as the home of the exoplanet Fomalhaut b, discovered in 2008 using the Hubble Space Telescope.
Watch for Saturn in the south at about 20° from the ground just above the Teapot asterism of Sagittarius, dipping below the horizon by 11:30pm. Jupiter will be very low on the horizon in the southwest for the entire month, right at or after sunset. In the latter half of the month, you might catch Mars very low in the early morning sky. By October 20th it should be visible around 7 am. Unfortunately, the other visible-to-the-naked-eye planets (Mercury and Venus) will be up in the sky during the day this month so you won’t be able to see them.
Telescope users can point their scopes in the south-east to catch the distant planets of Uranus and Neptune ( See here for what altitude Neptune will be visible in the sky at what time in your specific location https://in-the-sky.org/article.php?term=neptune&town=6183235 ). For further details on Uranus viewing, see Oct. 27th entry in the What’s Up in the Sky calendar below.
October 13 will bring us a Full Moon, also known colloquially as a Hunter’s Moon or Blood Moon. The bright waxing moon will make it difficult to see the already small Draconid Meteor Shower, peaking at only 5-10 meteors per hour on Tuesday Oct. 8th. Shooting star fans might have better luck waiting for the Orionid Meteor Shower (15-20 meteors per hour) to peak during the early morning of Tuesday Oct. 22nd as we make our way towards the New Moon on Oct. 28th.
OCTOBER 2019 SKY EVENTS
Fri. Oct. 4th: 62nd anniversary of the launch of Sputnik 1, humanity’s first artificial satellite.
Sat. Oct. 5th: International Observe the Moon Night. The moon will be in First Quarter stage which is best for viewing because half the Moon is in light and half the Moon is in shadow, the long shadows throw the Moon’s features into sharp relief. The stark contrast between the dark deep areas and the bright high areas gives a great sense of depth to the craters and mountains.
Tues. Oct. 8th: Blink and you’ll miss the Draconid Meteor shower, radiating from the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon and peaking at only 5-10 meteors per hour. Best views are before midnight.
Sun. Oct. 13th: Full Moon
Sun. Oct. 20th: Mercury at greatest eastern elongation (aka the furthest from the sun in its orbit). However, Mercury is present in the sky during the day for us at this time so will not be visible.
Tues. Oct. 22nd: Orionid Meteor Shower peak (20 meteors per hour), radiating from the constellation Orion. Best views are after midnight, before dawn.
Sun. Oct. 27th: Uranus at opposition (aka opposite the sun, on the other side of earth so fully lit by the sun and therefore the most visible). You have to use binoculars or a telescope to view this planet, around 30-40° from the ground in the south east at 10:30pm.
Mon. Oct. 28th: New Moon
Thurs. Oct. 31st: Halloween! Since you’re going to be up anyway, why not look at some stars before you collapse into a candy coma?