5 Sky Events This Week: Partial Lunar Eclipse, Halley’s Shooting Stars

This image of Halley's comet was taken back in 1986, when it swung by Earth in its 76 year orbit. This week bits of the famous comet will be falling into Earth's atmosphere as shooting stars. Credit: NASA/ESA/Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research
This 1986 image of Halley’s comet was taken when it swung by Earth during its 76-year orbit. This week, bits of the famous comet will come falling into Earth’s atmosphere as shooting stars. Credit: NASA/ESA/Max-Planck-Institute for Solar System Research

Mars and Regulus. Looking high east at dawn on Wednesday, October 16, check out Mars as it pairs up with Regulus, the lead star of the constellation Leo the lion.  The contrast in color between the orange-hued planet and the sparkling white, 79-light-year distant star is particularly striking with the naked eye or binoculars. What makes it so eye-catching is that the pair will appear to be separated by less than two degrees—equal to only four full moons side by side.

Regulus points to ISON.  Skywatchers with backyard telescopes can easily hunt down the much-talked about comet ISON in the pre-dawn skies of October 16 as it passes only two degrees north of the brilliant star Regulus.

Venus and Mars’ Rival.  A half hour after local sunset on Wednesday, October 16 and 17, look low in the southwest for the brightest planet of the evening sky perched above Antares—the lead star in the constellation Scorpius.

For ancient Greeks and Romans the distinct reddish tinge of this 600 light-year distant star reminded them of the Red Planet—hence its name. Look for the cosmic duo to appear separated by less than two degrees—little more than the width of your thumb at arm’s length.

Partial Lunar Eclipse.  On Friday evening, October 18, the full moon—also known as the Hunter’s Moon—glides through the outer edge of Earth’s shadow and undergoes a penumbral eclipse. The deepest part of the eclipse is at 7:50 pm EDT (23:50 UT), when a dark grey shading will appear along the southeastern edge of the moon.

The eclipse will be visible across eastern North America, South America, across Europe, and Africa on Friday night. Sky-watchers on the Asian continent get to witness the partial lunar eclipse at dawn on October 19.

Orionid Peaks. Starting late night on Sunday, October 20 and into the pre-dawn hours of Monday, the Orionid meteor shower peaks. But even though this year’s show will be slightly hindered by a waning gibbous moon, since Orionids are known to be brighter-than-average shooting stars, even sky-watchers in the suburbs can catch some of the action.

The Orionids are believed be a result of material shed from Halley’s Comet. The debris then slams into our atmosphere, creating a trickle of shooting stars.

The Orionids exhibit a maximum of about 20 meteors per hour, and all of them seem to radiate from its namesake constellation, Orion the hunter, north of Orion’s bright ruddy star Betelgeuse.


Tell us—what amazing sky phenomena have you seen lately?

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Meet the Author
Andrew Fazekas, aka The Night Sky Guy, is a science writer, broadcaster, and lecturer who loves to share his passion for the wonders of the universe through all media. He is a regular contributor to National Geographic News and is the national cosmic correspondent for Canada’s Weather Network TV channel, space columnist for CBC Radio network, and a consultant for the Canadian Space Agency. As a member of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada, Andrew has been observing the heavens from Montreal for over a quarter century and has never met a clear night sky he didn’t like.