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.
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.
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.
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.