Me­teor show­ers and still time to ob­serve Mars, Saturn


The skies of Oc­to­ber do pro­vide stargaz­ers with the op­por­tu­nity to ob­serve two me­teor show­ers. The first one of the month, a mi­nor dis­play of shoot­ing stars called the Dra­conids, oc­cured on the night of Oct. 8 to 9. I haven’t writ­ten about the Dra­conids very of­ten be­cause the shower cur­rently only pro­duces only ten or less yel­low­ish slow mov­ing me­te­ors per hour.

This year the Earth passes through the stream of de­bris more re­cently stripped off short pe­riod comet 21P/Gi­a­cobini-Zin­ner, the source of the Dra­conids, soon af­ter the comet’s rel­a­tively close en­counter (36 mil­lion miles) with our world. This cir­cum­stance could slightly en­rich the me­teor stream and pro­vide as­tronomers with many more shoot­ing stars than nor­mal. How­ever, the fore­casts I’ve seen sug­gest no uptick in num­bers. Re­gard­less, I would strongly rec­om­mend giv­ing the Dra­conids a try – just in case! For­tu­itously the Moon will be New on peak night, so it will not in­ter­fere with ob­serv­ing as many me­te­ors as pos­si­ble away from light pol­lu­tion.

Best of all, this me­teor dis­play is fa­vor­ably ob­served be­tween sun­set and mid­night when the con­stel­la­tion Draco is high­est in the north­ern sky. All you have to do is find Ursa Ma­jor (the Big Dip­per as­ter­ism). It will be sit­ting just above the north­ern hori­zon. Draco stretches be­tween Ursa Ma­jor and Po­laris, the pole star, which is the end star in Ursa Mi­nor (Lit­tle Bear), the Lit­tle Dip­per as­ter­ism han­dle. While the me­te­ors will em­anate from this re­gion of the sky, scan east and west up to zenith (di­rectly over­head). These par­ti­cles are fairly slow mov­ing, hit­ting our at­mos­phere at only 12.5 miles per sec­ond.

The sec­ond shoot­ing star dis­play of the month oc­curs on the night of Oct. 20 to 21 when the Earth passes through the rem­nants of Hal­ley’s Comet. It is called the Ori­onid me­teor shower, be­cause the me­te­ors ap­pear to ra­di­ate from within the con­stel­la­tion of Orion the Hunter. That ra­di­ant point is not far from the bright red su­per giant star Betel­geuse which rep­re­sents Orion’s right shoul­der (his per­spec­tive). Usu­ally the Ori­on­ids are best viewed be­tween mid­night and dawn’s early light, but a wax­ing gib­bous Moon (Full on the 24) won’t set un­til around 3:38 a.m. lo­cal time. This sce­nario will leave you only about two hours of dark sky time un­til dawn’s early light. Just be sure to po­si­tion your­self away from stray light sources to ob­serve as many me­te­ors as pos­si­ble.

An ob­server can ex­pect to count about 20 or so yel­low and green me­te­ors per hour once the Moon is out of the sky. The Ori­onid me­te­ors dis­in­te­grate in our at­mos­phere af­ter smash­ing into it at around 41.6 miles per sec­ond. The shoot­ing star dis­play is also noted for pro­duc­ing fire­balls that cre­ate per­sis­tent dust trains as they blaze across the sky.

De­spite hav­ing ob­served count­less me­te­ors dur­ing my 45 years as an am­a­teur as­tronomer, I never tire of sit­ting out un­der a starry sky wait­ing for “burn­ing rocks” to an­ni­hi­late them­selves in our pro­tec­tive at­mos­phere. Just be sure to duck if you hap­pen to ob­serve a “sta­tion­ary” me­teor. What’s that? Think about it. It means the me­teor is head­ing straight to­wards you!

Good luck to all of us for Oc­to­ber me­teor ob­serv­ing.

In con­clu­sion, while you do not need a tele­scope to ob­serve a me­teor shower, the lo­cal ob­ser­va­to­ries are open for you to ex­pe­ri­ence other won­ders of our uni­verse. Be sure to check their re­spec­tive web­sites for pub­lic ob­serv­ing sched­ules and clo­sures. Sea­grave Memo­rial Ob­ser­va­tory (http://www.theskyscrap­ in North Sc­i­t­u­ate is open ev­ery clear Satur­day night. Ladd Ob­ser­va­tory (http://­part­ments/Physics/ Ladd/) in Prov­i­dence is open ev­ery Tues­day night. The Mar­garet M. Ja­coby Ob­ser­va­tory at the CCRI Knight Cam­pus in War­wick ( physics/ob­ser­va­tory.htm) is open ev­ery clear Thurs­day night. And don’t for­get about our dis­tant (by Rhode Is­landers’ per­cep­tion) as­so­ci­ates down at Frosty Drew Ob­ser­va­tory (http://frosty­ in Charlestown. They open ev­ery clear Fri­day night.

Keep your eyes to the skies.

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