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Tonight

Keep watching for Orionid meteors on October 21-22

Here is a beautiful aurora, with an Orionid meteor falling above it.  Photo taken in 2013 by Tommy Eliassen Photography in Norway.

Aurora, with an Orionid meteor falling above it. Photo by Tommy Eliassen Photography in Norway.

Orionid meteor shower on night of October 20-21

Halley's Comet at its 1910 visit.  The famous astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin took this photo.  Via Wikimedia Commons.

Halley’s Comet at its 1910 visit. The famous astronomer Edward Emerson Barnard at Yerkes Observatory in Wisconsin took this photo. Via Wikimedia Commons.

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.

Everything you need to know: Orionid meteor shower

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter.  The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

The Orionids radiate from a point near the upraised Club of the constellation Orion the Hunter. The bright star near the radiant point is Betelgeuse.

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.

How to see Mars from Earth, as Comet Siding Spring sweeps past

To see Mars from Earth on October 19, 2014, look westward after sunset.  Mars is faint and far across the solar system now.  You'll need a telescope to see the comet near Mars.

To see Mars from Earth on October 19, 2014, look westward after sunset. Mars is faint and far across the solar system now. You’ll need a telescope to see the comet near Mars.

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.

Use Summer Triangle to find plane of Milky Way galaxy

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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.

Keep watching moon and Jupiter to dawn October 18

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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.

Rising times of the moon and Jupiter into your sky

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.

Moon and Jupiter close late tonight until dawn October 17

2014-oct-16-jupiter-moon-night-sky-chart

You can’t miss Jupiter. It’s the bright object near the moon from the wee hours after midnight tonight until the hours before Friday’s dawn.

Close-up of constellation Auriga the Charioteer

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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? Here’s your constellation

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.

Find the Andromeda galaxy on dark autumn nights

The Andromeda galaxy (upper right of photo) as seen by EarthSky Facebook friend Ted Van at a Montana campsite.

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.