With October just starting, NASA has served up its monthly list of tips on what to look out for in the sky over the coming weeks.
First up is “evenings with giants,” featuring none other than Jupiter and Saturn. The two enormous planets will be visible to the naked eye throughout October. In fact, you may have already seen them.
NASA notes that you can spot Jupiter — the brighter of the two planets — to the southeast, moving slowly westward with the stars as the night goes on.
“They form a triangle with bright star Fomalhaut,” the space agency explained on its website. “When observing this trio, note how the planets shine with a steady light, while the star twinkles. This can be an easy way to know if what you’re looking at is a planet or a star.”
Next up, Mars. The red planet has been appearing to head in an easterly direction all year — relative to the background stars — but at the end of this month, it will hit reverse gear and appear to begin heading in the opposite direction. Track it until late January and once again, it will seem to switch direction, heading east again.
In NASA’s video (top), you can learn more about this so-called “retrograde motion” of Mars, which occurs about once every couple of years. It’s actually something of an illusion that NASA says was once a source of intense curiosity for astronomers at a time when its movement wasn’t fully understood.
Finally, October (and November) is a great opportunity to view the Orionid meteor shower, which peaks on the night of October 20.
NASA describes it as “a moderate shower, usually producing 10-20 meteors per hour at its peak, under clear, dark skies.”
“The shower’s name comes from the fact that you can trace the paths of its meteors back to an area on the sky near Orion,” the space agency said, adding that the meteors in this particular shower are fragments of dust left over from Comet Halley, which was last seen in Earth’s skies in 1986.
According to NASA, Orionid meteors are often bright and fast moving and can leave long trails that glow for several seconds as they streak through the sky.
No special equipment is needed to observe meteor showers. For a full guide on how to observe the Orionids, Digital Trends has you covered.
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