Dates to circle in October for astronomy lovers

Two meteor showers lead the way
Published: Oct. 4, 2022 at 11:19 AM CDT
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MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - It has been awhile since a meteor shower graced our night sky. That changes in October as two meteor showers will peak. In addition to the two showers, Mercury will be easily visible this month.

The second half of August through early October is a notorious “dry” stretch for meteor shower admirers. It happens every year. That’s why this month’s meteor showers -- while not exactly top-notch -- probably draw good crowds across the Northern Hemisphere.

The Draconids (Peak: October 8th)

The Draconid meteor shower considered a minor shower each year with only 5-15 meteors visible each hour under ideal conditions. It usually isn’t high up on anyone’s must-see list, but because it comes after a quiet stretch it may have your interest peaked.

The Draconids peak on October 8th this year.
The Draconids peak on October 8th this year.(WSFA 12 News)

The Draconids peak during the evening hours on October 8th. Unfortunately the moon will be nearly full, likely washing out most of the meteors. Not every shooting star will be washed out, but this year’s version of the Draconids will be underwhelming unless...

In rare instances this shower can feature a bunch of meteors per hour. Hundreds and hundreds per hour have actually been witnessed in years past. This potential -- albeit very low -- makes this shower worthwhile in 2022.

The Orionids (Peak: October 21st)

This shower happens later on in October and is arguably much more popular than the Draconids. That’s mainly due to the simple fact that more meteors are seen with the Orionids, typically 10-20 per hour.

It’s not a guarantee that you will see that many every hour during the peak of Orionid meteor shower. Under perfectly dark conditions that’s what the average hourly rate winds up being.

The Orionids peak on October 21st this year.
The Orionids peak on October 21st this year.(WSFA 12 News)

Unlike the this year’s Draconids, the Orionids will come with minimal moonlight. That means most meteors that radiate across the night sky will not be washed out as long as you’re in a dark location away from city light pollution.

The best time to view the Orionids will be 12 a.m. to 6 a.m. on October 21st. Within that 6-hour window is when the rate of 10-20 meteors per hour will likely be observed.

The Orionids are actually a result of Earth passing through debris left behind by Halley’s comet! What makes them even more special is they are usually on the bright side and move very, very fast. According to NASA, the Orionids move at a whopping 148,000 mph as they enter Earth’s atmosphere! This speed allows the Orionids to leave behind glowing trains, or incandescent bits of space debris in the wake of the meteor.

If I don’t have you convinced to circle this event on your calendar, how about this tidbit from NASA: “Fast meteors can also sometimes become fireballs: Look for prolonged explosions of light when viewing the Orionid meteor shower.”

Mercury viewing this month

In addition to the two meteor showers this month the closest planet to the sun, Mercury, will be easily visible. Mercury isn’t always visible due to its very close proximity to the horizon. However, October will give us a great opportunity to see the planet in the pre-sunrise hours.

October presents a great opportunity to view Mercury in the predawn sky.
October presents a great opportunity to view Mercury in the predawn sky.(WSFA 12 News)

You will want to look toward the sunrise as the sky starts brightening up. If you pay close enough attention you will notice Mercury getting brighter and brighter through mid-month. It will have the appearance of a shining star before sunrise each day.

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