October’s Draconids are typically sleepers, but every now and then …
J. Alex Knoll
Sunset reveals Mars low in the southwest. Its ruddy glow is usually quite distinct, but it is only a dozen degrees from its rival, orange Antares, blinking to its upper left. You’ll have a harder time spotting Saturn, so low in the west that it’s almost lost in the glare of the setting sun.
Venus rises in the northeast around 4am, and it blazes ever-so bright high in the east before sunrise. Wednesday before dawn, Venus is only a fraction of a degree from Regulus, the heart of Leo the Lion. The first-magnitude star is the 21st brightest in the sky, but at –4.1 magnitude, Venus is more than 150 times brighter, so much that you might need binoculars to separate Regulus from Venus’ blazing glare.
Late Thursday or Friday before dawn, look for the waning gibbous moon with Jupiter to the left and red-hued Aldebaran below. The next night, the moon rises later and just a few degrees below Jupiter. They are almost directly overhead before sunrise.
By Sunday the moon rises near midnight, which provides a dark backdrop for the first of October’s two annual meteor showers, the Draconids. Unlike other showers, these are best viewed soon after sunset. The meteors appear to emanate from the head of Draco the dragon, which stands at its highest in the northwest before midnight. Most years the Draconids deliver only a half-dozen slow-moving meteors in an hour, but every now and then the dragon stirs, setting loose a fiery storm of hundreds of shooting stars over just one hour. Last year, even with a bright moon bleaching out the night sky, the Draconids put on a good show for us, while in Europe people reported upwards of 600 meteors an hour. But that’s nothing compared to 1933 and 1946, when the Draconids released a deluge of thousands of meteors an hour. Will this be one of those years? Look for the answer in the evening sky Sunday and Monday nights.