EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY - OCTOBER 2021
Welcome to our night sky update for October 2021. This is a great month for stargazing, as true darkness falls at around 8.45pm from the start of the month which enables keen stargazers to get started early with finding their favourite celestial objects. This guide will provide some interesting objects to study with the unaided eyes, binoculars or telescopes.
Use Your Eyes to See Two Meteor Showers and a Conjunction
The first notable meteor shower of this month is the Draconids, which peaks on 8th October. This meteor shower is mostly unimpressive with a maximum of five meteors an hour. However it can be unpredictable - with the radiant originating from the constellation of Draco the dragon, this meteor shower can act like a waking dragon, suddenly producing hundreds of meteors! Years where an outburst of hundreds of ‘shooting stars’ occured in 1933, 1946, 2011 (600 meteors were seen) and 2018. The meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through the stream of debris left by comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Could 2021 be a good year?
On 9th October, look to the south-west a little while after sunset and watch a pretty conjunction emerge into the evening sky, low on the horizon. The three day old Moon will be 2°51' degrees away from Venus. Catch them before they set.
The Orionid meteor shower peaks on the evening of 21st October. Unfortunately, the Moon’s light will interfere with this shower, which has 15 meteors per hour during the peak. It is worth looking out for the brighter meteors as they tend to leave persistent trains of ionised gas. The shower’s radiant is in the constellation of Orion and is associated with Comet Halley
The New Moon for this month will occur on 6th October and the Full Moon on 20th October.
The Helix Nebula seems the most unlikely object to find with binoculars, but it is one of those rare objects that are easier to find than with large telescopes. As this nebula has low surface brightness that is spread over a wide area, low magnification with plenty of dark sky creates a good contrast and enables the Helix Nebula to be found with binoculars and small telescopes.
To find it, look for the constellation of Aquarius and slowly pan your binoculars below the feet of the constellation. You should find a ghostly, greenish shape similar in appearance to the Dumbbell Nebula. This planetary nebula lies 694.7 light years away from us.
Location: RA= 21h 33.5m, Dec= -00° 49´
Messier 2 is a special globular cluster and is worth looking for this month. Not only is it the largest known cluster, it is also one of the oldest. It lies 55,000 light years away from us in the constellation of Aquarius.
In exceptional observing conditions in a dark area, it can even be seen with the unaided eyes but looks fantastic through telescopes of 4 inches and above. The larger the telescope, the more individual stars can be resolved. Globular clusters are a vast array of stars that are gravitically bound to each other. Messier 2 is composed of staggering 150,000 stars. You could also try and find Messier 15 (Pegasus Cluster) which is also another autumn treasure to discover.