October's Night Sky Brings Gorgeous Views of Planets & a Few Meteor Showers

Four of the five naked-eye planets will be visible in October, along with a couple of tepid meteor showers.

stargazing events near me
Photo by MARIANA SUAREZ/AFP via Getty Images

October is a fun month for stargazing, even if there aren't major celestial events to draw you outside after dark. 

With the exception of Mars, there are opportunities to see the other four naked-eye planets. Three of which -- Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter -- will have a conjunction or close pass with the moon. Additionally, there are a few meteor showers hitting their peak this month. Though, these aren't major events. The Draconids, Southern Taurids, and Orionids are not having years where they'll showcase a lot of meteors. Still, there are plenty of beautiful sights to catch in the October night sky. 

Here's what to look for this month.

October 6: New Moon

If you're looking for the best stargazing nights this month, October 6 is a date worth noting. With the light of the moon gone, you'll have great conditions to look up. 

You're not likely to see a whole lot from the Draconids this year. In most years, the Draconids produce about five meteors per hour unless it is a rare outburst year. That is not expected this year, per EarthSky. However, if you're out stargazing anyhow, you might spot a meteor or two from this early-month shower. EarthSky suggests that your best bet for seeing these meteors will be "at nightfall and early evening." It's a rarity among meteor showers since the best viewing time isn't after midnight.
 

best stargazing events october 2021
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory/YouTube

October 9-10: The Moon Joins Venus

Venus pops up in the west after sunset this month. On October 9, however, it'll be joined by the moon for a pretty pairing of bright objects. The crescent moon will sit just over our sister planet. That's the night of their conjunction and when they will be at their closest. You can see them relatively close together on nights around the conjunction as well, though. EarthSky notes that you should look shortly after sunset. They won't be out for all too long. They'll be low in the western sky.

Additionally, just off to the left of the pairing, you'll find the bright star Antares, part of the constellation Scorpius.

October 10-11: The Southern Taurid Meteor Shower Peaks

The first of the two long-running Taurid showers peaks the night of October 10 into the morning of October 11, Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist. Though, both Taurid showers are a bit tepid compared to the bombastic displays put on by the Perseids and Geminids. The Southern Taurids have a peak rate of just 3-5 meteors per hour. However, the meteors tend to be quite bright, and the shower runs for a very long time. You might see Southern Taurid meteors streaking across the sky from September 10 to November 20.

The moon will make a pass by Jupiter and Saturn this week. The Earth's satellite will be near the gas giants on October 13, but it'll be even closer on the following nights. It'll be about four degrees south of Saturn on October 14, according to EarthSky. It'll be about the same distance below Jupiter on October 15. You'll be able to catch them just after sunset, as the solar system's two largest planets rise early in the evening and stick around until about an hour after midnight local time, when Saturn sets, according to In the Sky. Jupiter will still be up for a little more than an hour after Saturn sets.

Jupiter is brighter than any star, making it pretty recognizable when it rises in the southern sky. Saturn is off to Jupiter's right (in the northern hemisphere) and has a slightly golden hue. They are close together, but they aren't on top of each other and are more distant than they were during last year's "great conjunction." The distance between them is getting greater, but we're still positioned to see them fairly close together nightly.

You can also spot the bright star Fomalhaut near this formation. It's bright, but it is not going to appear as bright as Jupiter or Saturn.

october stargazing events
Image via NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory YouTube

October 15-16: Antares and Venus Spend the Night Together

In the southwest sky on October 15, you'll find Venus and the orange star Antares sitting almost on top of each other, per NASA's What's Up. It won't be too long after this that Antares will sink below the horizon for the season. The duo will only be about a degree and a half apart early in the evening. 

October 16: International Observe the Moon Night

Since 2010, lunar lovers have stepped out for International Observe the Moon Night in October near the first quarter moon. This year, you can see a waxing gibbous moon that is just a few days past its first quarter phase. Go out and enjoy the second-brightest object in our skies.

October 17: A Great Morning to Catch Mercury

Mercury can be tricky to spot. Due to its position near the sun, it only appears for brief periods just after sunset or just before dawn when it's visible at all. Space.com's Joe Rao says that October 17 will be its "best dawn apparition of the year for mid-northern latitudes." The closest planet to the sun will have reached 1st magnitude brightness and appears about an hour before sunrise. You will be able to spot it for days around this date, but you will want to be looking somewhere with a pretty clear view along the horizon. It sits low in the sky.

October 20: Full Moon

This month's full moon, often referred to as the Hunter's Moon, lands on October 20. 

October 20-21: The Orionid Meteor Shower Peaks

The above point is an ill omen for this meteor shower. It's a bad year for the Orionids, which are produced by the detritus from Halley's Comet. The light pollution from the moon will cause some fainter meteors to be hidden from sight. "You've got a full moon that's going to completely wash them out because, like the Eta Aquarids, they're faint," Cooke said.

The rate of meteors during the peak on the morning of October 21 can be up to 20, but, again, you aren't going to be able to see them all. If you're looking, the best time to go out is after midnight. The meteors can appear anywhere above you, but they will be moving away from the constellation Orion, no matter where they are in the sky.

Ready to go stargazing?

Here are all the best stargazing events that you can get out and see this month or you could stay in a stream the northern lights from home. If you're just getting started, check out our guide to astronomy for beginners or easy stargazing road trips from big US cities

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Dustin Nelson is a Senior Staff Writer at Thrillist. Follow Dustin Nelson on Twitter.