By Mia Kennedy
Io, one of Jupiter’s moons. (Credit: NASA)
In the interest of keeping astronomy accessible, all of the stargazing opportunities covered in this article will not require a telescope. Your eyes, warm clothes and a mug of tea is all you need to enjoy some stargazing this month.
October rewards stargazers with a stunning four meteor showers, the most remarkable being the Orionids meteor shower. Meteor showers are the result of a small asteroid or comet fragment entering Earth’s atmosphere and burning bright as it descends towards our planet’s surface. This phenomena peaks on the 21st of October, where up to 21 meteors could be visible per hour. SpaceTourismGuide suggests looking for Orionids meteors near the Orion asterism, in the southern sky, between 3am and 5am. Grab your binoculars and enjoy some shooting stars!
Although they might be outshined by meteors, don’t forget to check out the awe-inspiring planets our solar system boasts. October 24th is a great opportunity to spot the famous Red Planet: Mars! Shortly before the sun rises, this tiny red spot will reach its highest point in the night sky and be visible in the eastern sky. Apart from Earth, Mars is the most explored planet in our solar system. With life-sustaining water-ice and 25-hour days, it is thought to be an attractive option for human development. Imagine waking up on a red desert in your Martian slippers, gazing out at Martian polar ice caps and sipping on Martian coffee. Zeep zorp. Broft gilfghart. (Martian for “Ah-h. The good life.”)
As one of the most recognizable celestial objects, the Moon can be used to spot several noteworthy planets this month. On October 14th, it closely approaches Saturn, one of my favourite planets. Never lonely, Saturn is orbited by 82 known moons and flaunts gorgeous rings of water-ice and dust. Why is it my favourite planet? Since it has a lower density than water, Saturn can float in any body of water despite being our solar system’s second largest planet. Yeah. That water bottle you're slugging around? Saturn could float in that.
To spot the largest planet in our solar system, you need only wait until the next day. On October 15th, the massive Gas Giant, Jupiter, will be brushing shoulders with the Moon. You likely know Jupiter for its Great Red Spot, a giant storm known to have existed since the 17th century when it was first spotted by Chinese astronomers. On Jupiter, one day lasts 10 hours due to its rapid rotation, so the planet has a shape like a flattened sphere. It also has 80 known moons, one of which, Io, looks suspiciously like a four-cheese pizza. Its mouth-watering appearance is explained by the 400+ volcanoes found on its surface.
Rim D, a teacher and professor in the Physics Department at Dawson, recommends checking out these planets while you can. She shares that, “Right now we are very lucky that Jupiter and Saturn are both visible in the sky, in the south direction, from sunset until about 2 AM. Jupiter is recognizable because it's brighter than the brightest star.” So catch a peak of these planets while you still can!
Elizabeth Zara, a second-year student in Studio Arts, is taking a class taught by Rim, Introduction to Astronomy. She finds that taking the time to learn about space has broadened her horizons in more ways than one. Elizabeth says, “I like being able to enjoy the sky and actually know what I’m looking at. Plus, it’s like ‘The universe is massive. It’s not just you.’ It’s kind of the scientific version of a philosophy class.” Rim agrees, sharing that, “Of course, a person should think that they themselves are important, but we should also be aware that all of us are a tiny part of a much bigger universe.”
Both see good consequences of learning more about astronomy. Elizabeth hopes that it would raise awareness on how big of a problem light pollution and smog is. Rim adds that it could also encourage people to pursue studies in scientific fields while fueling the imagination and a healthy curiosity for the world around us.
If space interests you, consider taking an astronomy course, visiting the Montreal Planetarium or picking up a book recommended by Rim, “The Stars, A new way to see them” by H.A. Rey. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the fast pace of everyday life, so take a moment to lean back and see just how tiny we are in the grand scheme of things. Warning: existential crisis imminent.