October is an active month in our solar system and beyond, allowing for quite the show here on Earth’s surface. As we wrap up the second half of the month, there are a few notable events happening in our sky. Four of our planets are visible to the naked eye, we have a full moon and even a meteor shower to watch!
The Hunter’s moon generally falls in the month of October. This year, it will be full on October 20 at 9:56 AM CST. At this time of the day, the moon is not visible in the sky from the state of Kansas as it has set. However, the best time to see the moon is just before moonset at 7:37 AM on October 20, or again that evening as it rises in the eastern sky around 7:05 PM. The Hunter’s moon gets its name from the extended light brought farmers and hunters so they could continue their hunt into the night before the approaching harsh winter.
Oftentimes full moons can appear to have a orange look as they rise. This is only a physical effect and not really a trait of the moon. When the sun or moon is on the horizon, the light it emits has to travel through the thickest part of our atmosphere. This allows for many of the colors in the visible spectrum to be scattered, leaving the red and orange waves that make it to our eyes. As the moon rises it will gain its normal color.
The Orionid meteor shower occurs later in the month as well. It will peak on and around October 21 in the hours just before dawn. This shower displays anywhere between 10 and 20 meteors per hour in prime viewing conditions. It is always recommended to get as far away from lights as possible and to allow your eyes to adjust more than 20 minutes to optimize your chances of seeing meteors. This activity will stem from the Orion constellation in the east sky. Unfortunately, 2021 looks like a poor year for Orionid viewing as the moon will be full through a good chunk of the night. This will create a much brighter atmosphere and hurt your chances of seeing more meteors.
We are also able to see a few different planets this time of year in our night sky. After their “Great Conjunction” at the end of 2020, Jupiter and Saturn continue to slowly grow apart through the end of 2021. The planets still appear close together, however. Of the two, Jupiter will appear larger and brighter, with Saturn just off to the right hand side. You can generally find them in the sun’s path just after it has set in the evening.
Venus is also another notable planet you can see at this time of year. Aside from the sun and moon, it is the next brightest object in our sky. Right now, Venus lies low in the atmosphere after sunset in the western sky. You can also see Mercury in the early morning hours before sunrise, but as soon as the sun begins to come up, it will fade. In the short window, Mercury can be see in the low eastern horizon.
As far as viewing conditions go, we are favoring near average to slightly warmer than average temperatures through the next 10 days. This will allow for a crisp night of viewing. Also, our pattern looks to remain dry, hoping to give us clear skies at night.
Happy space watching!
-Meteorologist Warren Sears