Aussies: Your October Guide To The Skies

This month’s astronomical events include a meteor shower and a spectacular look at Mars.

Throughout October

The Large Magellanic Cloud (LMC) and Small Magellanic Cloud (SMC) are the brightest galaxies in our neighbourhood and October is a great opportunity to see the SMC high in the southern sky.

The Small Magellanic Cloud, is five degrees across from its bigger sibling, the Large Magellanic Cloud, and is distinctly fainter. It is estimated to be home to a few million stars and is even farther away from us, at 210,000 light-years

To see SMC, look towards the south-east towards Achernar, the single bright star in that direction. To see the SMC’s nebulosity, take along some binoculars or a telescope.

The tip of the "wing" of the Small Magellanic Cloud galaxy is dazzling in the view from NASA's Great Observatories (below).

The SMC is one of the Milky Way's closest galactic neighbours.  [Image: NASA]

Even though it is a small, or so-called dwarf galaxy, the SMC is so bright that it is visible to the unaided eye from the Southern Hemisphere and near the equator.

Many navigators, including Ferdinand Magellan who lends his name to the SMC, used it to help find their way across the oceans.

9 – 10 October

Throughout October, Mars will move through Sagittarius constellation, which resides on the ecliptic plane. By 9 October, the Red Planet will be near Messier 22, the brightest globular star cluster. At about 10,000 light-years away, M22 is the closest globular cluster to Earth

The cluster looks stunning through small telescopes, appearing as an impressive pile of sugar crystals with clumps and streamers of stars on a black table cloth.

Globular star cluster Messier 22 will be easy to track down in October [Image: N.A.Sharp, REU program/NOAO/AURA/NSF]

10 October

While the Southern Taurids meteor shower isn't known for producing a flurry of shooting stars, it will provide a higher than normal chance of spotting bright fireballs.

In the early hours of 10 October, the sky show will reach its peak and night owls will be able to see sporadic meteor streaks, with one approximately every ten minutes.

The “stream of cometary debris that produces the Taurids contains a large fraction of pebble-sized material in addition to the dust grain-size particles that make up most of the meteors we see enter Earth's atmosphere," according to Michael Solontoi, an astronomer with the Adler Planetarium in Chicago.

The meteor shower is thought to be produced by debris from comet Encke, which loops around the sun once every three years or so – the shortest orbit of any known comet.

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