Updated: Oct 9
Outside my window, there is a calico cat lounging on Angler Mountain. Asleep, the feline’s
brilliant golds, chocolate browns, hints of rust, and tans, of colored patches spread out resting upon an evergreen forest. The winds rise, and our cat’s fur shimmers in the mid-day Sun. This mouser’s colors change by the day; and sometimes by the hour. Disappointingly soon, my tabby in its multicolored autumnal fur will awake and saunter off leaving stark skeletons of Aspens behind. That’s autumn in Colorado’s high country. If we’re lucky, the season lasts, oh, say about 10-days. Snow is predicted for next week.
For us stargazers, October continues the transition between the summer night sky and the winter night sky. We can still view summer constellations, despite the need to wear sweaters, coats, hats, and gloves. As the summer constellation of Scorpius sets, the winter constellation Orion rises, just as Zeus deemed. With this crispy chill, comes clarity. The stars twinkle a bit more and the planets are a bit brighter. Have a look for yourself. There are two meteor showers this month, while the waning gibbous Moon and Jupiter meet for a western morning conjunction. Who said you can keep a Goddess down? Not I. Venus again proves her elevation by reaching her highest altitude in the wee morning.
There’s much a foot for us stargazers in October, and below are just a few of the highlights. But, without question, the biggest of the biggest event of them all, is the annular solar eclipse. Let’s begin with a closer look at this unusual eclipse.
The Annular Solar Eclipse: October 14th (9:14am – 12:06pm MT)
Surprisingly, the biggest astronomical event in October, and possibly this year, doesn’t
happen at night. On October 14th the annular solar eclipse begins at 9:14am MT and ends at 12:06pm MT. In the image above, the blue line represents the center line of annularity radiating out. The eclipse slides onto North America in the Pacific Northwest first and then moves diagonally southeast. From Oregon, through Nevada, Utah, the Four Corners region, then New Mexico and Texas.
What is an annular eclipse? This type of eclipse is often referred to as the “Ring of Fire”
eclipse. The flaming ring of the Sun surrounding the Moon is named such due to the apparent position of the Moon in relation to the Sun. Each type of eclipse (total, partial, annular) is determined by the Moon’s relation to the sun and by one's location inside the umbra, or the penumbra, or the antumbra. In an annular eclipse, we see the ring of fire because we’re inside the antumbra shadow that is created by the umbra shadow. Weird eh? The image below will explain it all.
Here in Colorado, annularity (the ring of fire) side swipes the extreme southwestern corner of the state, with the center line of annularity just a smidge southwest of the Four Corners region. The remainder of the state will average around +/- 80% coverage in a partial eclipse. In Grand Junction the coverage will be 86%, in Denver it will be 78%, and in Silverthorne it will be 81%. At eclipse maximum, 10:41am MT, this is what it will look like from Denver. Need I remind you: ALWAYS WEAR SOLAR SAFE GLASSES WHEN OBSERVING THE SUN.
What are your annular solar eclipse party plans? Can you think of a better way to spend a
Saturday morning than watching our solar system cosmically align along with family and friends? Get the gang together and enjoy the show. I promise, you’ll be glad you did.
A Waning Moon and Jupiter Meet In an Odd Conjunction: October 29th
A conjunction between celestial bodies is loosely defined as a moment when two or more objects occupy the same right ascension, or terrestrial longitude in the night sky. Wanna
know more, when objects in conjunction make their closest approach to one another, this
is called an “appulse.” The Moon will be bright that morning on the 29th being just one
day past Full. Still the chief god of the divine pantheon, Jupiter, shines in strength and
confidence below and slight to the left of the Moon. Viewing this conjunction is different.
Usually the conjunctions that are more visually appealing and easier to see occur in the
eastern horizon in the morning, and the western horizon in the evening. This one is the
reverse. You’ll be looking to the western horizon early in the morning. I know, it’s counter-intuitive. To review: to catch this conjunction, look towards the western horizon
from 5am local time forward to sunrise. As you do, some say they see the Moon as a hot
air balloon, and Jupiter as its swaying basket. Some see a winking cat eye. What do you
Venus In the Morning, Beauty at Its Highest: October 19th
It’s been said that love knows no bounds, and once again the planet Venus reminds us
this is true. It wasn’t too long ago that the goddess of love summoned dusk over the western horizon in brilliance and altitude. Now, Venus, the “dawn-bringer” returns to the morning in the east. It is suggested that in the second millennium BC, ancient Egyptians and ancient Greeks possibly knew that the morning star and an evening star were the same star. The morning of the 19th, Venus will be easy to find. Look to the eastern horizon after 3am locally and beaming brightly at a magnitude of 4.4 you’ll find Venus rising to an altitude of 42 degrees above the horizon. This date marks the highest point in the sky that Venus will reach during its morning apparition for 2023 – 2024. Fittingly, Venus will be luminous and beautiful. It may take your breath away. Please, and for goodness sake, (or goddess sake) don’t confuse Venus with the landing lights of an approaching aircraft.
Draconid Meteor Shower: October 5th – 12th
Unlike the Orionids, you don’t have to get up after midnight and stay up all night to catch
this show. Honestly, that’s the challenge of seeing most meteor showers at their optimal.
It requires getting outside at ungodly hours of the night or in the extremely early morning
hours of the new day.
But the Draconids are that rare meteor shower best observed between sunset and midnight when the constellation Draco the dragon, where the meteors appear to originate, is highest in the evening sky. Get outside away from artificial light if you can, give yourself 20-minutes to get your night vision. Look to the northwest horizon. The radiant point of the shower is about 30 degrees above the horizon. That’s three widths of your fist, thumb up, starting with your fist’s pinkie finger on the horizon. The Draconids are not predicted to be exceptional this year, around 10 per hour, but the angle at which the debris hits our atmosphere is conducive for more long streamers type shooting stars.Make a plan to get outside after sunset when the Draconid’s peak on their 8th and catch the dragon’s flames flashing across the night sky.
Orionids Meteor Shower: Peak October 18th – 25th
The Orionid meteor shower is an annual show for us in the northern hemisphere. The show runs from October 2nd through November 7th. This year the shower will peak on the nights of Oct. 21st and 22nd, with 20 – 30 meteors anticipated per hour between midnight and dawn. That’s pretty good. Interestingly, this meteor shower is a product of debris shed during the historic passes by Earth of the famous Halley’s Comet. Want to see the Orionids? Find a nice dark-sky location and then settle in. Recline your chair backwards and look straight up to the zenith of the night sky; that point directly overhead. There’s no rush to get outside if you just want to view the meteor shower since they don’t kick-in till after midnight local time. A warm drink will be a good companion. Try to keep a wide angle view of the sky above you as meteors can come from any direction.
Unquestionably, the October stargazing calendar is full. It’s no stretch to say that there is something big happening in the night sky every week. From seemingly back-to-back continuous meteor showers, to a rare Annular Solar Eclipse in our own backyard on a convenient day and time. All the while Jupiter and Saturn reign supreme, and the new day dawns with Venus, high in the sky radiating beauty.
It was foretold that October would have multiple celestial joys and wonders for us to
harvest. It’s nice when our expectations are met.
Clear Skies to You!