October: Settle in for Orionid meteor show

47 Tucanae, aka NGC 104, is the second largest globular cluster in the night sky. It’s roughly the size of a full moon and is located directly adjacent to the Small Magellanic Cloud, not far from the south celestial pole. Photo by MPAS member Steven Mohr

After wonderfully rich views during winter, our October night skies look rather empty – with the exception of the bright planets Venus, Jupiter and Saturn. However, this does not mean there is nothing else to see. Looking south, you can locate the constellations Phoenix, Grus, Tucana, Pavo and the long and winding Eridanus. The constellation Sagittarius, the Archer, lies low in the west.

There are several objects that make good targets for even modest amateur equipment. Look south to find the constellation Tucana, the Toucan. Within the boundaries of this constellation you can see 47 Tucanae, or NGC 104, one of the best globular clusters in the night sky. With the naked eye it appears as a slightly fuzzy star. Near 47 Tucanae lies the galaxy known as the Small Magellanic Cloud, or SMC, which is a great target for a small telescope or a pair of binoculars, and can also be seen with the naked eye.

A hop over the constellation Hydrus, or the Little Water Snake, takes you to the constellations Dorado and Mensa, where you will find the Large Magellanic Cloud, or LMC. Binoculars or small telescopes reveal many star clusters and patches of nebulosity with the LMC.

Also occurring is the annual Orionid meteor shower. Orionids are active every year in October, this year peaking on the night of October 21-22. At its peak, there are potentially up to 15 meteors visible every hour. The Orionid meteor shower is the second annual meteor shower created by Halley’s Comet. No special equipment or a lot of skill is required 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 viewing spot, make sure you are comfortable, especially if you plan to stay out long – meteor watching can be a waiting game!

October 10 will see Venus, the crescent moon and the bright star Antares form a triangle. On October 14, Saturn and the waxing moon will be close, followed the next night by Jupiter close to the moon.

By Nerida Langcake
This article appeared in the October 2021 issue of the Mornington Peninsula Magazine.