New England’s famous flaming foliage should be as spectacular as ever this fall, and just as the landscape on Earth is changing, so the celestial landscape is always changing in set patterns.

The top of the Winter Hexagon, a star named Capella in the constellation Auriga, already rises by 9 p.m., and all of Orion the Hunter will have cleared the eastern horizon by 11 p.m. By the end of October, all of Orion will be visible by 9 p.m., since the whole sky appears to revolve eastward by two hours every month. That equates to any given star rising four minutes earlier each night.

As the nights are getting colder and longer now, there will be several interesting highlights to look for. Some will happen every October, like the Draconid and Orionid meteor showers, and some events are new, like Comet Garrad and the supernova in the galaxy named M101.

The Draconid meteor shower, caused by Comet Giacobini-Zinner, will peak on the night of Oct. 8 into Oct. 9. Normally, you could only expect about 10 to 20 meteors per hour, even from a dark place far from any lights. However, this time could be different. It is predicted there is a good chance of a major outburst of these lesser-known meteors, up to 500 per hour, caused by the Earth just clipping a particularly dense ribbon of debris shed by this comet back in 1900.

Unfortunately, this wonderful event is predicted only for Europe and the Middle East. It would happen in the afternoon in this country. We can only hope the predictions are off by a few hours, and then we could be in for quite a show, in spite of the fact that the moon will be only three days before full that night.

The Draconids have displayed major outbursts a couple of other times in the past century, in 1933 and 1946. They saw 10,000 meteors per hour, which was 10 times better than the Leonid meteor “storm” on Nov. 18, 2001.

The Orionid meteor shower is more predictable and steady, but it is not usually very spectacular, at a rate of only about 20 meteors per hour from a good site. At least the moon will be just four days before new, so it will not interfere too much.

The Orionids will peak on Oct. 21 into Oct. 22. They are caused by the most famous of all comets, Halley’s. So even though you will not see the complete comet again until 2062, at least you can see sand grain-sized pieces tearing into our atmosphere twice every year, on Oct. 21 as the Orionids and again on May 4 as the Eta Aquarids.

The Orionids will glide into our upper atmosphere at about 70 miles high at 40 miles per second. As they quickly heat up due to their high speed, they will be torn apart and some will even explode, causing a brilliant fireball. About half of the Orionids should leave persistent trains behind them.

The explosion of a type 1A supernova in a huge galaxy called M101 was first seen Aug. 24. Forming an equilateral triangle with the first two stars in the handle of the Big Dipper, named Alkaid and Mizar, M101 is a beautiful pinwheel galaxy about five times larger than our own Milky Way. It is 23 million light years away, which is close for galaxies.

Suddenly, 23 million years ago, one star became as bright as all 1 trillion stars combined in that galaxy. We just saw the first photons from that cataclysmic explosion on Aug. 24. I saw it through a large telescope at the Astronomical Society of Northern New England’s Starfield Observatory in Kennebunk on Sept. 2. It peaked at 9.9 magnitude on Sept. 10. It is slowly fading out now, but it is still about 10th magnitude, visible even in small telescopes. Try to find it now that the moon is getting smaller again.

The Astronomical Society will hold its annual Starfest on Oct. 23 and 24 (to learn more, go online to We will be looking at that supernova, Comet Garrad, Jupiter and Mars, and many other inspiring celestial objects those evenings.

Jupiter will be the star of the night sky throughout the fall and into winter. The king of the planets will reach opposition on Oct. 28, when it will rise at sunset and not set until sunrise. It will be at its closest and brightest that night for the year. Other than last year, Jupiter will reach its closest opposition in nearly 50 years this month. It is now in southwestern Aries and is moving retrograde, or westward against the fixed background of stars.

Venus is finally making its reappearance into our evening sky this month. Try to see how early in the month you can spot it very low in the southwestern sky, just half an hour after sunset. Everyone should be able to see it by the end of the month, when it will not set until one hour after sunset.

Venus is fully illuminated by the sun now, which means it is also farthest from the Earth, so it is not at its brightest. It will look larger as it gets closer to Earth, and will be our blazing “evening star” this winter and spring.

Saturn finally returns to our morning sky late this month. Look for the ringed planet low in the east-southeastern sky near Spica in Virgo half an hour before sunrise.

Mars rises around 2 a.m. and it will pass right through the Beehive star cluster in Cancer at 5 a.m. on Oct. 1 and then quickly head on into Leo.


Oct. 3: First quarter moon is at 11:15 p.m. EDT.

Oct. 4: On this day in 1957 the Russians launched Sputnik 1, the first satellite ever launched by humans.

Oct. 8: The Draconid meteor shower peaks.

Oct. 9: Kepler’s supernova was discovered on this day in 1604. It is the last supernova that exploded in our galaxy. That’s supposed to happen about every 100 years, so we are way overdue.

Oct. 11: Full moon is at 10:06 p.m. This is also called the Hunter’s Moon.

Oct. 13: Jupiter is near the moon tonight in Aries the Ram.

Oct. 14: On this day in 1947, Chuck Yeager broke the sound barrier in the Bell X-1 jet. That is about 750 mph at sea level, which happens to be about the speed that the Earth rotates on its axis at this latitude.

Oct. 15: The Pleiades are just above the moon tonight.

Oct. 19: Last quarter moon is at 11:30 p.m.

Oct. 21: The Orionid meteor shower peaks tonight. The waning crescent moon passes just to the right of Mars one hour before sunrise this morning.

Oct. 31: On this day in 2005, the Hubble Space Telescope discovered two new moons of Pluto, named Hydra and Nix. The first moon, Charon, was discovered in 1978 and a fourth moon was just discovered by the Hubble on July 20. Named P4, it is only about 15 miles across. Charon is 650 miles in diameter, about half the size of Pluto.

Bernie Reim of Wells is co-director of the Astronomical Society of Northern New England.