Naked-eye objects to observe when looking up at our southern skies this month include Venus and the bright star Spica, which appear close together on October 3-5. On the 4th, Jupiter will appear close to the waxing moon, followed on the 6th with Saturn near the waxing moon. Towards the end of the month we will see Mercury, Venus and a crescent moon together in the sky, and on October 31 a waxing moon appears close to Jupiter.
The highlight this month, though, is the Orionid meteor shower. Orionids are active every year in October, this year peaking on the night of October 21. At its peak, there are potentially up to 20 meteors visible every hour. Orionid is the second meteor shower created by debris left by Halley’s Comet during its 76-year journey around the sun; the other is the Eta Aquarids in May. Halley’s Comet itself will next be visible from Earth in 2061.
Orionids are named after Orion because the meteors seem to emerge or radiate from the same area in the sky as the constellation (see Sky Map). You don't need any special equipment or a lot of skills to view a meteor shower; all you really need is a clear sky and lots of patience. For optimum viewing, find a secluded spot away from the city lights. Once you have found your spot, make sure you are comfortable, especially if you plan to stay out long — meteor watching can be a waiting game!
On Friday, October 4, the Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society will hold its monthly public stargazing night at the MPAS Observatory at The Briars in Mount Martha, starting at 8pm. For more information, bookings and a map, visit the society’s website at mpas.asn.au
NERIDA LANGCAKE, Mornington Peninsula Astronomical Society