Stargazing in October: Halloween fireballs

Wchicken you’re out trick-or-treating this Halloween, regulate the sky for an atypical cosmic deal with – sensible taking pictures stars referred to as fireballs. They will constitute the afterlife of an enormous comet that died 20,000 years in the past.

Annually, we enjoy common showers of taking pictures stars, when the Earth ploughs into trails of mud shed via comets as they tramp across the solar system. This month, as an example, we’ll experience a show of Orionid meteors at the night time of 21 October: those are fragments littering the orbit of Halley’s comet, that deplete within the Earth’s environment far more than our heads and appear to move outwards from the constellation Orion.

From overdue October into mid-November, we pass the trail of a comet referred to as Encke – named after German astronomer Johann Encke who calculated its orbit in 1819. Whilst a comet like Halley sweeps in from the a long way portions of the sun machine, Encke’s comet doesn’t stray additional out than the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, looping across the solar in simply 3.3 years. It’s a small and faint beast, regardless that, so simplest hardly is Encke’s comet visual with out a telescope.

The Earth sweeps up a couple of fragments from Encke yearly in October-November, as a drizzle of meteors referred to as the Taurids. They’re so desultory that I in most cases don’t point out them on this column. However this 12 months is other.

Along the tenuous band of mud unfold alongside Encke’s orbit, astronomers imagine there are parallel streams thick with larger chunks of rock, as much as the scale of pebbles. In 2022, the Earth is ready to run into this type of streams, and the bigger chunks of particles will blaze into incandescence as they rain down.

It’s from time to time took place earlier than. In 1997, a fireball related to Encke’s comet shone as brilliantly as the whole moon. And in 2005, astronomers noticed a flash at the moon when a pebble-sized fragment impacted the lunar floor.

And pebbles aren’t the most important participants of those streams. Lately, astronomers Ignacio Ferrin from Colombia and Vincenzo Orofino from Italy have intently tested the orbits of many asteroids and comets traipsing during the internal sun machine. They conclude that 88 of them apply an identical paths to Encke’s comet, in bands of particles which can be a significant danger to our planet.

In keeping with Ferrin and Orofino, two of essentially the most harmful affects in contemporary historical past passed off because the Earth crossed this cosmic minefield. In 2013, an area rock 20 metres throughout crashed to Earth close to the Russian town of Chelyabinsk, injuring 1,500 other people. And a good higher piece of house particles wreaked worse destruction in 1908, within the – thankfully – in moderation populated Tunguska area of Siberia.

So the place did those cosmic projectiles, each nice and small, come from?

Again in 1982, British astronomers Invoice Napier and Victor Clube printed a far-sighted and bold idea. Round 20,000 years in the past, they claimed, an enormous comet headed into the interior sun machine. Assaulted via intense warmth and gravitational forces because it swung with reference to the Solar, this 100-km-diameter grimy snowball disintegrated right into a myriad fragments, together with Encke’s comet and the Tunguska projectile.

Standard astronomers shook their heads: why invoke such an excessive state of affairs, simply to give an explanation for a small comet and a random affect at the Earth?

However now issues glance other. The Chelyabinsk affect got here alongside. Ferrin and Orofino have proven Encke’s comet is only one in a formation of just about 100 asteroids and comets. In spite of everything, the theory of a perfect comet doesn’t appear so whacky now: the Hubble House Telescope has measured the diameter of the far-off comet Bernardinelli-Bernstein as over 120 km.

The extra we be told, the extra we will have to concern the mortal stays of Napier and Clube’s tremendous comet. As we’re handled to a show of Halloween fireballs, let’s simply hope we’re now not subjected to the trick of an enormous house rock on collision direction…

What’s up

Massive planet Jupiter continues to be essentially the most sensible object within the night time sky, after the moon, and visual all night time lengthy against the south. But it surely now has a challenger. To Jupiter’s left you’ll in finding Mars emerging at about 8.30pm, and brightening during October till it fits the brilliance of essentially the most distinguished stars.

Smartly to Jupiter’s proper is the sun machine’s second-largest international, Saturn, with its famed ring machine an excellent sight thru a small telescope.

The night time sky at round 11pm this month

(Nigel Henbest)

The distinct trend of 4 stars marking out the Sq. of Pegasus lies above Jupiter, with the W-shape of Cassiopeia upper up nonetheless. In opposition to the east, we will be able to now see the celebs of iciness starting to upward push. Aldebaran, marking the attention of Taurus (the bull) lies to the best of Mars, close to the gorgeous little superstar cluster of the Pleiades (the seven sisters). And over within the northeast, shiny Capella – within the constellation Auriga (the charioteer) – is now neatly in view.

It’s an ideal 12 months for staring at the yearly Orionid show of taking pictures stars, at the night time of 21 October, because the moon is easily out of the way in which and the sky might be darkish. And at the final night time of the month, be careful for the Halloween fireballs (see major tale).

Early birds can catch Mercury placing on its absolute best morning look of the 12 months, low at the jap horizon mid-month, and emerging at about 6am.

Remaining, however a long way from least, there’s a partial eclipse of the solar on 25 October. As observed from London, the moon begins shifting in entrance of the solar’s disc at 10.08am; the eclipse is largest at 10.59am; and the display is over at 11.51am. (Those occasions might range via a couple of mins relying for your location in the United Kingdom.)


8 October: Mercury at largest elongation west

9 October, 9.55pm: complete moon

12 October: moon close to the Pleiades

13 October: moon close to Aldebaran

14 October: moon close to Mars

16 October: moon close to Castor and Pollux

17 October, 6.15pm: final quarter moon close to Castor and Pollux

21 October: most of Orionid meteor bathe

25 October, 11.49am: new moon, partial sun eclipse

28 October: moon close to Antares

30 October: British Summer season Time ends

31 October: Halloween fireballs (get started of the Taurid meteor bathe)

Nigel Henbest’s newest guide, ‘Philip’s 2023 Stargazing’ (Philip’s £6.99), is a month-by-month information to the whole lot that’s taking place within the night time sky subsequent 12 months

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