Tonight … October 20, 2014 … is the best time for watching the annual Orionid meteor shower. And an awesome shower it is! For one thing, it stems from debris from the most famous of all comets, Comet Halley. In fact, the object in the picture at top isn’t a meteor. It’s Comet Halley itself. Debris in the orbit of this comet – the Orionid meteor stream – is now encountering Earth’s atmosphere. The meteors will become visible in their greatest numbers tonight, and especially in the dark hours before dawn tomorrow morning (October 21). At the peak, from a dark site, you might expect to see about 25 meteors per hour.
Details on 2014’s Orionid meteor shower. It’ll peak on the morning of October 21. If you’re hankering to watch some meteors, try this shower! 2014 is a good year for them.
The sky chart above shows the red planet Mars and Comet Siding Spring snuggling up together in the western sky on the evening of October 19. Look for Mars not long after the sun goes down. It’s reddish in color, natch. The reddish star Antares will be nearby. The comet itself probably won’t be bright enough to observe through ordinary binoculars, so we simply show Comet Siding Spring’s location in the sky with an arrow.
Tonight … use the Summer Triangle and the constellation Cygnus the Swan to locate the galactic equator (plane) of our Milky Way galaxy. Sure, it’s autumn here in the Northern Hemisphere, but the three brilliant stars that make up the Summer Triangle still shine. You’ll find them way up high in the October evening sky. I suggest viewing the scene from the comfort of a reclining lawn chair, with your feet pointing southward.
Given clear skies, everyone around the world can see the waning crescent moon pairing up the brilliant planet Jupiter on October 18 – that is, if you’re willing to get up in the wee hours before sunrise. If you’re up before dawn, you might also see Regulus, the brightest star in the constellation Leo the Lion, near the moon and Jupiter.
At present, Jupiter is in front of the constellation Leo, near the Leo-Cancer border. The faint constellation Cancer lies to the west of Leo. Throughout October and November, Jupiter will be moving eastward in front of the backdrop stars, onward toward the star Regulus. But, starting in December 2014, Jupiter will change direction, to move in retrograde (westward), going away from Regulus, and toward the constellation Cancer. Jupiter will enter Cancer in early February 2015, to stay within Cancer’s borders until early June 2015.
The constellation Auriga the Charioteer and its brightest star Capella are easy to identify in the northeast by mid-evening. If you don’t see them, try looking a bit later at night – especially if you live in the southern U.S. If you’re unsure whether you’ve identified Capella, you can always look nearby for a small triangle of stars. Capella is sometimes called the Goat Star, and this little triangle is known as The Kids.
Aquarius the Water Bearer is a constellation of the Zodiac, which means the sun, moon and planets all occasionally or regularly pass within its boundaries. It’s a big constellation and has long been associated with water. This constellation has no particularly bright stars, and you will need a dark sky to pick it out.
You might be able to find the Andromeda galaxy just by looking for it on a dark, clear night. Otherwise, try star-hopping from the Great Square in the constellation Pegasus.