South Wales astronomy writer Jonathan Powell tells us what to expect in the night sky over the coming month:
As nations around the world search for ways to defend Earth from a possible asteroid strike (which saw the demise of the dinosaurs), NASA’s double asteroid redirect test has successfully driven a probe into a 525-foot-wide moon on the evening of Monday, Sept. 26, in an attempt to reorient its course.
It is hoped that if spotted early enough, similar tactics could be used to divert a large body heading for Earth.
Nasa’s new era of returning to the Moon with Artemis 1 has faced no less than three delays with a date for a fourth attempt still unclear, but hopefully well before the end of 2022.
Artemis 1, although uncrewed, will pave the way for a crewed mission, with Nasa planning to eventually establish a permanent base on the Moon.
As the evenings approach, an excellent opportunity arises to search for a close neighbor to ours – the Andromeda Galaxy.
For astronomy newbies, this might seem like a daunting task, but the fall sky offers frequent and casual observers a chance to tick off another object they’ve seen in the skies. This particular object requires the use of binoculars or a telescope.
Using a sky map or world map, locate the constellation Andromeda. Use the “W” shape of Cassiopeia and the Grand Square of Pegasus as pointers to find Andromeda. The galaxy, known as M31, named by Charles Messier who cataloged such objects, will appear as a blur not far from the reasonably bright star named Mirach in Andromeda.
Give yourself plenty of time for your eyes to adjust to the darkness, scanning the area in question for a small but distinctive hazy patch. The reward will be seeing the farthest object you can spot with the naked eye. A galaxy 2.5 million light-years from Earth, containing over a trillion stars!
Partial Solar Eclipse
On the morning of Tuesday, October 25, there will be a partial solar eclipse visible from Wales. It won’t present much of a spectacle, I’m afraid, and an organized gathering can give you the best chance of witnessing it. At the point of maximum eclipse, there should be about 10-15% of the northwestern portion of the solar disk covered.
A partial eclipse occurs when the Sun, Earth, and Moon align in an almost straight line. Only certain parts of the world will see this partial eclipse, Wales being one of them.
Eclipse Timings from Newport: Stage 1 – 10:08am; Stage 2 – 10:56 am; Stage 3 – 11:45 a.m.
Under no circumstances look directly at the partial solar eclipse using binoculars or a telescope, as the intense brightness of the Sun can cause permanent damage to the eye.
October sees the hunter’s moon, which will be full on Wednesday, October 20. There are also a number of alternate names for the October Full Moon – such as Falling Leaves Moon and Migrating Moon, as the birds begin their journey south for winter.
Halloween fireballs from the Taurid shower which peaks in November.
October sees the Orionid meteor shower kick in early in the month, peaking in the third week, then generally waning and dying out in the first week of November. The Orionids, like August’s Perseids, tend to generate the same number of meteors each year when the Earth passes through a well-established debris field to generate the “shooting stars”.
The shower peaks in the early hours of Friday, October 21, but is worth watching on either side of that date.
After midnight, looking to the southeast, 15 to 20 meteors per hour can be expected as Earth passes through the debris left in the orbital wake of Halley’s Comet.
Observation can be done with the naked eye, so there is no need for a telescope or binoculars.
The Taurids meteor shower also begins in October, usually beginning around the last third of the month, but continuing through the first week of December.
The reason for this rather long period of activity is that the debris field left in the wake of Comet Encke is very well distributed, taking some time for Earth to cross it.
Around Halloween, it was repeatedly noted that the Earth passed through larger pieces of debris, generating brighter meteors, earning the title “Halloween fireballs” for those who observed them.
British Summer Time ends Sunday, October 30 at 2 a.m., clocks go back one hour.
While we’ve all but lost Venus by morning twilight, early risers will have a good chance to spot Mercury in October.
Look for Mercury from the second week of the month, positioned low on the eastern horizon. The middle portion of October features the best sighting of the innermost planet. On the morning of October 24, Mercury will be under a crescent moon, which will make identification easier.
Rising around 8:30 p.m., Mars is located in the constellation of Taurus Taurus.
On the evenings of Wednesday the 12th, Thursday the 13th and Friday the 14th, watch for the waning crescent moon as it passes by turns the Pleiades (“Seven Sister”), Aldebaran and Mars.
Located in the constellation Pisces the Pisces, Jupiter is simply stunning, eclipsing all but the Moon in the night sky. On October 8, the Moon passes under Jupiter, offering a beautiful spectacle.
Saturn is also exposed, located in Capricorn, the Goat.
Always worth looking at in the smallest powered binoculars or small telescope, Saturn sets around 1:30 a.m.
Barry Astronomical Society: “Gravitational Waves – Pushing the Limits” – Chris North. Monday, October 17, 7:15 p.m. Barry Community Centre, Friars Road, Barry.
Bridgend Astronomical Society: “A Stairway to Heaven – Space Elevators and Their Viability” – Phil Wallace. Wednesday, October 19, 7:30 p.m. Bridgend Tennis, Squash and Bowls Club. Parking at the Halo Recreation Centre, Angel Street.
First quarter October 3; full moon October 9; third quarter October 17; new moon on October 25.
Early October: the sun rises at 7:12 a.m. and sets at 6:49 p.m. End of October: the sun rises at 7:03 a.m. and sets at 4:46 p.m.
*Jonathan is a contributor to BBC Sky at Night magazine with articles also published in Astronomy Now. He has written three books on astronomy, Cosmic Debris; Rare Astronomical Sights and Sounds (which was selected by ‘Choice’ magazine as an outstanding academic title for 2019); and From Cave Art to Hubble, all available on Amazon. Jonathan worked at BBC Radio Wales as an astronomy correspondent and was an astronomy and space correspondent for The National, (an online newspaper for Wales). He is currently a columnist at the South Wales Argus, and also a contributor to CAPCOM, an online magazine which promotes astronomy and spaceflight to the general public. He has also presented on commercial radio at Sunshine FM in Worcester, Brunel FM in Swindon and Bath FM, and has also presented on a dedicated astronomy and space radio station, Astro Radio UK. It is currently at 107.9 GTFM in South Wales. He also wrote a book about castles, ‘Fortress Wales’, and was on the writing team for the BAFTA-winning BBC TV show ‘The Fast Show’.