Each Monday I pick out the northern hemisphere’s celestial highlights (mid-northern latitudes) for the week ahead, but be sure to check my main feed for more in-depth articles on stargazing, astronomy, eclipses and more.
What To Watch For In The Night Sky This Week: October 18-24, 2021
This week there are two major celestial events, but sadly the presence of one negatively affects the other. First up is the Orionid meteor shower, when the leftover debris from the famous Halley’s Comet rains down on Earth’s atmosphere. It can occasionally be a good show, but probably not this year, largely because it coincides with the full “Hunter’s Moon.”
With our satellite in space so big and bright, the night skies will be bleached enough for hardly any Orionids to break through and become visible … but if you’re out full moon-gazing, you might get lucky!
Perhaps even more interesting is that the “Hunter’s Moon” will briefly be visible just below Uranus this week, giving planet-collectors a rare chance to easily find the faint planet.
Wednesday, October 20, 2021: A full ‘Hunter’s Moon’ and the Orionid meteor shower
A full “Hunter’s Moon” will occur today at 14:58 Universal Time and, as always, it will look its best as it rises in the west during dusk.
Check out the exact times of moonrise and moonset for your location, but wherever you are, the best time to watch the “Hunter’s Moon” appear above the eastern horizon will be just after sunset tonight.
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Several hours later, in the small hours of the next morning, the Orionid meteor shower peaks. In late October every year the Earth moves through streams of particles deposited in the inner Solar System in 1986 by the famous Halley’s Comet, which is not due back in these parts until 2061.
As those particles strike Earth’s atmosphere they energise and glow up to about 20 times per hour (sometimes many, many more) to create the Orionid meteor shower—so-called because the “shooting stars” appear to come from the direction of the constellation of Orion. However, the waning gibbous Moon—tonight 98%-lit—will blot-out all but the very brightest bits of the great comet.
Thursday, October 21, 2021: A ‘Hunter’s Moon’ and Uranus
Despite the full Moon having by now been and gone, on Thursday night our satellite will still appear to be full and, crucially, rise not long after sunset.
As well as looking almost as grand as last night, the Moon will also be really useful as a guide to finding the seventh planet, Uranus, which you probably haven’t seen before. About 1.8 billion miles/2.9 billion kilometers distant, the blue-green disk of Uranus is best seen using a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.
Times and dates given apply to mid-northern latitudes. For the most accurate location-specific information consult online planetariums like Stellarium and The Sky Live. Check planet-rise/planet-set, sunrise/sunset and moonrise/moonset times for where you are.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.