Hunter’s Moon and Orionid Meteors

Hunter’s Moon and Orionid Meteors

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Last month’s full moon landed on Sept. 13, and this month’s full moon is at 4:09 p.m. Oct. 13. Central Daylight Time. October’s full moon has been called the Hunter’s Moon, but hunting season in Wisconsin is currently in November. Some of the other names for October’s full moon are the Blood Moon or Dying Grass Moon, which may seem more appropriate for fall and upcoming Halloween.

The Orionid Meteor Shower has a broad peak from Oct. 20 to 27, with up to 25 meteors an hour expected. The bits of dust that ignite the atmospheric streaks producing the Orionids were left behind from Halley’s Comet. With the full moon earlier in the month, the sky should be relatively dark during the shower.

For those trick-or-treating and handing out candy on Halloween, expect a beautiful view as the sky grows dark. Look to the southwest to see a crescent moon close to Jupiter with the Milky Way in the background.

Halloween is not the only evening in October when the moon will be near Jupiter. The pair float almost five degrees apart on Oct. 31, but at the beginning of the month on Oct. 3, Jupiter and the moon will be less than two degrees apart. The moon will be a fatter crescent on that night at 33% lit. The moon also has a close encounter with Saturn two nights later on Oct. 5, when it has the shape of a first quarter moon.

On Oct. 28, a new moon means the sky will be nice and dark for the opposition of Uranus. Uranus rises at sunset and sets at sunrise in the constellation Aries. At magnitude 5.7, it can be spotted in a pair of binoculars and possibly even without optical aid from a dark-sky site; the trick is knowing where to look. Uranus will appear as nothing more special than another star in the sky. If you sketch the corner of the constellation Aries where it meets Pisces and Cetus from night to night, you will see one “star” slowly moving against the background stars, and that object is Uranus. The easiest way to spot it, however, is wait until it has a close pairing with a bright, well-known object. The next decent opportunity to spot Uranus in this way is in March 2020.

One favorite fall observing target is the Pleiades, a small star cluster in the constellation Taurus. The Pleiades looks best through binoculars; its large size cannot be completely captured in a telescope. Without any optical aid, you’ll first notice the Pleiades as a fuzzy patch of stars in the east after it gets dark. The shape is reminiscent of a little dipper.

The Pleiades is also known as the “seven sisters,” six of which are easily visible with your eyes alone. Magnification will suddenly increase the number of stars visible to a few hundred to more than a thousand under the right conditions. The stars in the Pleiades cluster were born together about 100 million years ago, and the grouping itself lies about 440 light-years away.

Kelly Kizer Whitt fell in love with astronomy while a student at Sauk Prairie High School, earned her degree at UW-Madison and shares her love with this column.

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