What to See in the Night Sky in October

The Milky Way rises over Fiftymile Mountain inside the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument in Escalante, Utah. (Photo: Ryan Hallock [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

With crackling leaves underfoot and shorter days on the horizon, it's time to stow away the summer gear, break out the sweatshirts and make our transition into cool evenings and frosty mornings. Below are just a handful of celestial highlights to look forward to in this season of pumpkins, pears and the occasional high-flying witch.

Draconids meteor shower peaks (Oct. 8)

meteor shower falls in rural New Mexico
The annual Draconids meteor shower in New Mexico. (Photo: Mike Lewinski [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)

It's time for the annual Draconids meteor show, which happens every October. This year the shower peaks on the night of Oct. 8 but you can also watch on Oct. 7 and Oct. 9. The Draconids get their name from the northern constellation of Draco the Dragon, from which they appear to radiate.

This particular shower is caused by Earth passing through debris shed by a periodic, 1.2-mile-wide comet called 21P/Giacobini–Zinner. The best time to watch is after dusk (no need to stay up late!), but with a bright, gibbous moon, it will be tough to see fainter meteor showers.

A tiny Hunter's Moon (Oct. 13)

A large orange Hunter's Moon sets in Wyoming.
A Hunter's Moon sets on the Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge in Wyoming. (Photo: USFWS Mountain-Prairie [CC by 2.0]/Flickr)

October is generally referred to as the Hunter's Moon, so-called by Native Americans for the time of year when people would hunt to build up stores for winter. With the start of frost season, it's also been referred to as the Freezing Moon and the Ice Moon.

This full moon occurs a few days after apogee (the point in a moon's orbit when it's farthest from Earth), giving us the smallest full moon of 2019.

Catch the Orionids meteor shower (Oct. 21)

The Orionids meteor shower will peak on the evening of October 22nd.
The Orionids meteor shower provide the month's biggest show. (Photo: Jeffrey Sullivan [CC BY-NC-ND 2.0]/Flickr)

If you missed the Draconids, no worries, as this is the best sky-watching event in October. The Orionids meteor shower, created by debris left behind by Halley's Comet, is set to peak in the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 21. As many as 25 meteors will be visible each hour.

While the Orionids tend to originate from the constellation of Orion the Hunter, most displays can be viewed from any point in the evening sky. Grab a blanket, get comfortable and look up. Chances are, you'll quickly find yourself with a glut of wishes.

Uranus at opposition (Oct. 27)

a comparison of sizes between Uranus and planet Earth
A size comparison between Earth and Uranus. (Photo: NASA [public domain]/Wikimedia Commons)

The seventh planet from the sun will come closest to Earth this month, making it the best time to observe Uranus. When this planet is opposite the sun in our sky, it will rise in the east as the sun sets in the west.

If you're lucky to live somewhere without light pollution, you might see it with your eyes alone, but even then it'll appear as a dim speck of light. Grab a good pair of binoculars and locate this distant world by looking for the front of the constellation Aries.

The moon and Jupiter make a close approach (Oct. 31)

a large telescope with the moon, Jupiter and Venus in the background
The European Southern Observatory's (ESO) Very Large Telescope (VLT) in Chile shows off the moon with two bright companions: Venus and Jupiter. (Photo: ESO/Y. Beletsky [CC by 4.0]/Wikimedia Commons)

Spend your Halloween evening gazing up at the sky to see the largest planet share the same right ascension with the moon. Depending on your time zone, this close approach will occur as dusk fades above the southwestern horizon. The moon and Jupiter will still be too far apart to view through the lens of a telescope, but you can watch this cosmic cuddle with your naked eyes or binoculars.