October is many people’s favorite month for stargazing. After all, the sun keeps setting earlier and the skies are dark for longer, plus the evenings are cool but not cold.
There’s a lot for stargazers to see in the sky during October as well.
First, the Draconid meteor shower will peak in the evening on October 8. Then, October’s full moon, known as the Hunter’s Moon because its light makes hunting easier, will occur on October 9. Finally, a second meteor shower, the Orionids meteor shower, will peak in the evening on October 21 and early the next morning.
Here’s what you need to know about the two meteor showers.
Why We See Meteor Showers
About the “size of a small town,” a comet basically is a giant “dirty snowball” made of frozen gasses with embedded rock and dust particles, NASA explains. They originate outside the orbit of the outermost planets then follow an elliptical orbit around the sun.
As comets orbit the sun, they leave what essentially is a trail of debris behind. Then, every year, when Earth passes through these debris trails on its own orbit around the sun, the debris particles collide with Earth’s atmosphere. When this happens, the particles heat up to temperatures around 3,000 degrees, creating streaks across the sky, Space.com explains.
Meteor showers are named for the constellations where they appear to emerge.
The Draconid Meteor Shower
The comet responsible for leaving a trail of dust that becomes the Draconid meteor shower is a small periodic comet known as 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. It was discovered by Michel Giacobini on December 20, 1900, at the Nice Observatory in France.
Comet Giacobini-Zinner passes through the inner solar system every 6.6 years. Each time, it leaves behind what can be thought of as a narrow filament of dust, Dr. Bill Cooke, lead of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office, explains.
Over time, these individual filaments create a network that Earth passes through each year in October during its own orbit of the sun.
What’s interesting is that this filament network makes the Draconid meteor shower an all-or-nothing type of event.
“Most years, we pass through gaps between filaments, maybe just grazing one or two as we go by,” Cooke says. “Occasionally, though, we hit one nearly head on — and that’s when the fireworks begin.”
The Draconid meteor shower gets its name from a constellation known as Draco the Dragon.
The constellation will be high in the sky on the evening of October 8, so you’ll have better chances of seeing meteors before midnight, according to EarthSky.
You should expect to see up to 10 meteors per hour this year. However, since scientists never really know about the Draconids, there’s always the chance you could see hundreds of meteors in a single hour.
The good news is that you don’t even really need to know where Draco the Dragon is in the sky to see the meteors.
Instead, all you need to do is go outside, lie down on your back or recline in a chair, and look up at the sky. After about 30 minutes, your eyes will adjust to the dark, and you will begin to see meteors. Remember to not check your phone for any reason because your eyes will then need to readjust to the dark all over again.
That said, check out this table to help know when and where in the sky you should look to increase your chances of seeing meteors.
The Orionids Meteor Shower
Even NASA notes that the Orionids, which peak during mid-October each year, is one of the most beautiful meteor showers of the year.
“Orionid meteors are known for their brightness and for their speed,” according to NASA. “These meteors are fast — traveling at about 148,000 miles per hour, or 41 miles per second, into Earth’s atmosphere.”
“Fast meteors can leave glowing ‘trains,’ or incandescent bits of debris in their wake, which last for several seconds to minutes,” NASA continues. “Fast meteors can also sometimes become fireballs; look for prolonged explosions of light when viewing the Orionid meteor shower.”
The pieces of space debris that collide with Earth’s atmosphere to create the Orionids are left behind by a famous comet: 1P/Halley. Named for Edmond Halley, who discovered the comet in 1705, Halley the comet takes about 76 years to orbit the Sun. Interestingly, the debris left in the comet’s wake also causes the Eta Aquarids meteor shower each May.
The Orionid meteor shower gets its name because the meteors appear to come from the constellation Orion.
While the meteor shower actually lasts from September 26 to November 22, it will peak in the evening on October 21 and in the early hours the next day. You can expect to see about 15 meteors per hour then.
Know Before You Go Outside
If you want to increase your chances of seeing the meteor showers, you’ll want to be somewhere really dark — far away from city lights. A map of dark places that are optimal for stargazing may be found here.
Be sure to check out the rest of our stargazing content as well, including: