Michigan’s night sky will have plenty to see from your own backyard this fall.
VANDALIA, Mich.—As the nights start to get longer throughout the fall, it’s a good time to head to dark sky parks and look up.
And if you visit somewhere like the Dr. Lawless International Dark Sky Park in Cass County Nov. 19, you’ll get a gorgeous view of a partial lunar eclipse.
Lunar eclipses happen when the Earth passes in between the sun and the moon. The eclipse in November will be partial, meaning Earth’s shadow won’t totally block the sunlight hitting the moon. This will make the part of the moon blocked by Earth remarkably dark, but some light will pass through Earth’s atmosphere. The atmosphere of Earth scatters blue light, which is why lunar eclipses turn the moon red.
But the eclipse isn’t the only reason to turn eyes to the skies this fall. And October is particularly exciting for fans of space.
Draconid Meteor Shower on Oct. 7
Dust left behind by a comet named 21P Giacobini-Zinner will be falling through the atmosphere from Oct. 6-10, but peaks Oct 7. It isn’t a heavy meteor shower, with only around 10 shooting stars per hour, but the moon being in a favorable phase means those shooting stars will be easier to spot.
Hunter’s Moon on Oct. 20
Each full moon has several names based on when they occur. While they all look the same, they have different cultural meanings to different groups of people. That said, there are some nice advantages fall gives to moonrises like the Hunter’s Moon. That’s because the moon’s orbital path makes it rise very close to sunset in early fall, giving a full and bright moon in the dusk before night a special, autumnal meaning.
Orionids Meteor Shower on Oct. 21
Dust left by Halley’s Comet falls to Earth throughout October, peaking this year on Oct. 21. Other than how long the shower runs, one of its most significant traits is its connection to the most popular comet in Earth’s path.
The problem this year will be the Hunter’s Moon, whose brightness might make shooting stars hard to spot when the show peaks at 20 per hour at the end of the month. But don’t worry if you don’t spot much during the Orionids, one of the greatest light shows of the year is later in the season.
Best Time to View Mercury on Oct. 25
If you’re a morning person, this one’s for you.
At the end of October and most noticeably on Oct. 25, look at the Eastern sky about an hour before sunrise. That’ll be around 7 a.m. on the best day of viewing. It’ll appear as a bright golden star to the naked eye, but if you bust out a telescope you’ll see the closest planet to the sun. You can also spot silvery Venus high above the horizon this morning.
Taurids Meteor Shower on Nov. 4
Though the Taurids tend to be a fairly slow show, with only about 10 meteors per hour, this year they happen to coincide with a new moon. Unlike a lunar eclipse where the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, new moons involve the moon being between the Earth and Sun, so only the side facing away from Earth is lit. That means the moon won’t be lighting the sky, and the Taurids will be easier to see.
Best Time to View Uranus on Nov. 5
We know, get the giggles out.
Farmer’s Almanac reminds us it’s pronounced “EUR-an-iss.” With good eyesight and knowing where to look, the blue-green dot will be visible to the naked eye when it’s closest to Earth, Nov. 5, but to see it’s beautiful rings you’ll need a serious telescope.
Leonids Meteor Shower and a Lunar Eclipse on Nov. 19
Like the Orionids, this one might be hard to catch at it’s best thanks to appearing during a full moon. That full moon, the Frosty Moon, happens to be the same one that’ll be darkened by a lunar eclipse, though, so just two days after the Leonids peak there may be a chance for one of the most cool shows the sky has this year, with a meteor shower and an eclipse together.
But there’s still a brighter show coming.
Best Time to View Venus on Dec. 5
Venus is one of the brightest figures in the sky most of the year, and was highest in the sky at the end of October, but for our money the best view is on Dec. 5, when Venus is at its most brilliant. It’ll still look like a star to the naked eye, but even a good pair of binoculars will show the crescent look at Venus’ iconic atmosphere.
Geminids Meteor Shower on Dec. 13
In the last days of fall comes what many consider to be the best show the night sky has to offer. The Geminids, peaking Dec. 13, will brighten skies with around two falling stars per minute, coming in a variety of colors and intensities. It’s caused by the Earth passing through the debris of the meteor 3200 Phaethon, and the best viewing will be from a dark place shortly after midnight.
The Long Nights Moon on Dec. 19
This is the last celestial event of the season. The formal end of fall, the Winter Solstice, is just two days later. Being so close to the longest night of the year and sitting on the cusp of winter, the Long Nights Moon is the longest full moon to rest in the night sky. It’s a great way to end a season of chasing meteor showers, planets, and eclipses.