Changing Planet

Sky Events This Week: Green Giant, Blood Moon, and Dragon Spits Fire

Uranus and its five major moons are depicted in this montage of images acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft back in 1986. This week the green ice giant is easily found thanks to its stunningly close encounter with the moon in the night skies.  Credit: NASA/JPL
Uranus and its five major moons are depicted in this montage of images acquired by the Voyager 2 spacecraft back in 1986. This week the green ice giant is easily found thanks to its stunningly close encounter with Earth’s moon in the night skies. Credit: NASA/JPL

 

 

Amid excitement over a total eclipse, stargazers also can look forward this week to some starry surprises and a minor meteor shower. As always, the skies offer plenty of sights worth staying up to see.

Uranus Opposition.   Uranus officially reaches opposition on Tuesday, October 7. That means the outer planet will be at its biggest and brightest in our skies for the year.

Pisces Uranus Moon Oct 2014
This wide-angle sky chart shows the constellation Pisces and its Circlet asterism pointing the way toward the distant planet Uranus on October 7, 2014. Credit: Skysafari

The green ice giant will appear opposite in the sky from the sun, rising in the east after sunset in the constellation Pisces and located to the far lower left of the Circlet asterism, seen in the sky chart at right.

At magnitude 5.7  you can try spying Uranus with the naked eye from dark countryside—but you may find it easier to pick out its tiny green-blue colored disk with binoculars or a small telescope.

It’s amazing to think that this gas giant planet is so far from Earth that it takes light bouncing off its upper cloud deck more than two and a half hours to travel across the solar system to reach our eyes.

Lunar conjunction. Helping to track down the seventh planet from the sun, the near-full moon will be only four degrees to the right of Uranus.

Detailed finder's chart shows Uranus next to moon on October 7, 2014. Credit: SkySafari
Uranus next to moon on October 7, 2014. Credit: SkySafari

 

Blood Moon.  Night owls get a chance to see the moon devoured by Earth’s shadow and turning red in the early morning hours of Wednesday, October 8.

The best views of the total lunar eclipse will be from North America and across the Pacific Ocean. First hints of a partial eclipse will begin at 5:15 a.m. EDT , with totality beginning at 6:25 a.m. EDT.

Get all the details in our eclipse viewer’s guide.

Draconid Meteors.  Look toward the high northwest skies starting after nightfall on Wednesday, October 8, and then again on Friday, October 10, for the minor Draconid meteor shower.

Like most meteor showers, the Draconids are named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate—in this case, Draco, the Dragon. This year’s performance is expected to be less than ideal, with the full moon in the sky at the time of the shower’s peak dimming its sparks. However, observers can try and catch some shooting stars during the lunar eclipse, when the skies turn darker.

At the shower’s peak, Draco will be nearly overhead around midnight throughout the Northern Hemisphere. Draconids are best viewed from when darkness falls until midnight, when its radiant is at its highest point in the sky.  The Dragon’s shooting stars are fairly easy to catch for beginning sky-watchers, since they’re considered some of the slowest moving of any meteor shower.

The flurry of meteors actually comes from a stream of sand-grain-size particles spread along the orbit of the comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. When Earth slams into this debris stream, the comet particles disintegrate in our upper atmosphere, creating streaks of light.

(Related: “New Meteor Shower Discovered; May Uncover New Comet.”

sky chart showing the moon in Taurus constellation, next to the Pleiades star cluster.  Credit: SkySafari
This sky chart shows the moon in Taurus constellation, next to the Pleiades star cluster. Credit: SkySafari

Moon and Pleiades. As darkness falls on Friday, October 10, look toward the eastern sky for the waning gibbous moon positioned in the constellation Taurus, the Bull, posing to the right of the open star cluster Pleiades.

Also known as the Seven Sisters, this jewel-like star cluster is visible to the naked-eye even from the suburbs. At 400 light-years away, this distant deep-sky treasure looks like a fuzzy group of stars. However, binoculars and small telescopes really bring it into stunning focus.

The moon and the cluster will appear about ten degrees apart, equal to the width of your fist held at arm’s length. 

Moon and Eye of the Bull.  By the next evening—Saturday, October 11—look for the silvery moon to have slid down next to the bright orange star Aldebaran.

Earth’s natural satellite will appear only three degrees from the 68 light-year distant red giant, a division equal to the width of your three middle fingers held together at arm’s length.

Views through binoculars will be particularly pretty as the moon will appear to lie right in the middle of the distinct V-shaped star cluster, the Hyades.

Happy hunting!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on TwitterFacebook, and his website.

 

 

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.
  • janet davies

    is any of this visible from England ? or am I just wasting my time subscribing to your site?

  • Michael & Kathy Freeman

    We enjoy receiving info about all that is above. People who look up with wonder have great potential for expanding the mind. Cheers.

  • potato

    you are wasting your time, move to Canada for best view.

  • Louis Ray Starr

    Do you have any idea when the Moon rose Central Daylight time on October 7th near Chicago? I need this data to calculate how much the Moon traverses in one day to the piont of the eclipse that will occur on the 8th of October in the morning.
    Cordially,
    Louis Ray Starr

  • Victor J

    Hahaha Janet !! If it’s visible from England or not is a good question…but asking if you are wasting your time is funny !!!. Up to you what you do with your time and how you use it XD

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