A trio of comets and two meteor showers

Glenn K.
Glenn K. Roberts
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The night sky at this time of the year is clear and crisp, allowing for excellent viewing.

That is fortunate for us, as this month we are in for a rare treat — three comets in the sky over the course of the night.

Though you will need to be under a dark sky in the country, away from the light pollution of the urban centres, as well as have a pair of good binoculars or a telescope (these comets are not yet visible or likely to become naked-eye visible), you should be able to spot all three comets.

For the first of the three, Comet Garradd, you will need to start looking just as darkness falls. Look to the western part of the sky and find the constellation of Hercules about a third of the way up the sky. Because Comet Garradd is so faint, you will be better off looking at a skychart online to locate it among the many stars in the constellation.

Go to either www.astronomy.com or www.skyandtelescope.com to see a detailed cart of where the comet will be from night to night throughout the month. Once you have found it, mark its location against a background pattern of stars. The comet will not move much from night to night or much throughout October, so you should be able to easily find it when you decide to look for it again.

To find the remaining two comets, Comet Elenin and Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova (HMP), you will need to be up well before the sun. The best time to look for these comets will be during the first week of the month, before the waning, crescent moon appears in the pre-dawn sky and washes out the comets

Look to the east for the constellation of Leo — the Lion cresting the horizon. Comet Elenin (the brighter of the two) will be just to the lower left of Leo’s major star, Regulus. It will appear higher in the sky on consecutive mornings, passing to the left of Mars later in the month.

Comet Elenin should appear between sixth and eighth magnitude (or, hopefully, brighter), easily visible in binoculars. Comet HMP will be much more difficult to find, as it is much fainter than Elenin. It will appear to the right of Elenin, and should be in the same field of view of your binoculars on Oct. 7.

Once you find Comet Elenin, place it in the upper right-hand quadrant of your binocular’s field of view. Comet HMP, if visible at all, should appear in the lower left-hand section of the field of view (at about the 4 o’clock position).

Again, a detailed skychart for the comets from one of the above-mentioned websites will greatly assist to finding the comets.

The Draconid meteor shower peaks on the night of Oct. 8. The shower’s radiant (point of apparent origin) lies in the head of Draco — the Dragon, a constellation lying between the Big and Little Dippers. All three of these constellations are in the northern part of the sky (they are circum-polar constellations, meaning they never set from sight.)

Start looking for this meteor shower as darkness falls on Oct. 8. Experts predict that this year’s shower could produce an inordinate number of meteors, although the majority of them are expected to fall through night skies over Europe and the Middle East, before the radiant becomes visible in our skies.

However, it is possible that we could see a larger than usual number of Draconids on Saturday night and Sunday morning. The one thing about meteor shower predictions is that they are usually inaccurate. So, if the weather permits, haul out the lawn chairs or blanket and get ready for the show.

Organizations: Comet Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova, Orionids, Royal Astronomical Society of Canada Charlottetown Centre

Geographic location: Mars, Europe, Middle East

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