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Huestis: Orionid Meteor Shower, Distant Planets & Other Sky Events

Saturday, September 30, 2017


The most important astronomical news I have for you this month concerns the August 21 solar eclipse. Many folks visited the local libraries and Seagrave Observatory to successfully observe the partial eclipse with telescopes and hundreds of solar eclipse glasses. Clouds did interfere somewhat depending upon one’s location throughout the state, but I’ve heard nothing but positive feedback from individuals who attended these programs.

The news media, both print and broadcast, did an excellent job of covering the event from Seagrave Observatory. The Woonsocket Call published a great follow-up article the following day, and WPRI 12’s T.J. Del Santo did a segment from Seagrave on eclipse day. Though I wish I could have been a part of the Rhode Island experience, my wife and I observed two minutes and 35.9 seconds of totality from Adams, Tennessee. This was my third successful total eclipse. And it was spectacular. I hope to write a special column soon about our adventure. The journey to the event began well before our drive into the shadow zone.

I must also give many thanks to my brother Glen for setting up his telescope on the Bryant campus in my absence. Many people stopped by to observe the partial phases safely through his scope and with the eclipse glasses I provided. A good time was had by all.

Now we start planning for the 2024 total solar eclipse!

But let’s not rush things. There are many other astronomical events to observe during the rest of the year. So let’s start with October. For you early risers during twilight on the morning of the 5th look due east to see brilliant Venus. However, binoculars or a small telescope will reveal a much dimmer Mars towards the lower right. This event is called a planetary conjunction. Venus and Mars will be about a half-moon diameter apart. This is the closest they’ve been since 1995. Through a telescope Venus will appear in a gibbous phase, and no detail will be discernible on Mars’ small disk.

As dawn begins on the 15th, a waning crescent Moon will occult (pass in front of) Leo’s brightest star Regulus. Here in Rhode Island blue-white Regulus (21st brightest star in our sky) will disappear behind the sunlit limb (left) of the Moon at approximately 5:49am. While binoculars can provide a better view than one’s eyes alone, a telescope and medium magnification will enhance the experience as the star slowly winks out behind the lunar profile. Regulus will reappear along the Moon’s dark limb at approximately 6:45am. Sunrise is around 6:58 am.

If you have not observed Saturn this season, then by all means get yourself to a telescope to do so. You’ve only got another month or so to view this beautiful ringed-world. And knowing how lousy the weather can be around southern New England, I would suggest visiting any of the local observatories during their public observing nights the next clear night they are open. You don’t want to miss the magnificent rings that are currently tilted almost 27 degrees to our line of sight, allowing great detail to be seen.

And don’t neglect the more distant worlds of Uranus and Neptune during October as well. On the 19th Uranus will be at its closest to the Earth for this year—about 1,760,000,000 miles. That’s farther than Westerly for you northern Rhode Island stargazers!

The August Perseid meteor shower was somewhat hampered by the Moon, and for me the clouds rolled in to spoil the view sometime before the midnight hour. However, as soon as I stepped outside I saw a fairly bright meteor blaze across the sky. October provides us another opportunity to watch for shooting stars. On the night of the 20-21, the Orionid meteor shower peaks. Conditions will be ideal, as a waxing crescent Moon, only 1 day past New Moon, will set soon after the Sun. This scenario will leave a dark sky for the entire night, letting us observe as many meteors as possible. All you’ll have to do to maximize your viewing experience is to find a suitable location well away from light pollution.

The Orionid meteor shower occurs when the Earth passes through the remnants of Halley’s Comet. The shower is named for Orion, the constellation from where the meteors appear to radiate. Orion rises around 10:00 p.m. The radiant point is not far from the bright red super giant star Betelgeuse. One can expect about 20 or so yellow and green meteors per hour between midnight and dawn’s early light. The Orionid meteors disintegrate in our atmosphere around 41.6 miles per second, and they are also noted for producing fireballs that create persistent dust trains as they blaze across the sky. And with moonlight not affecting the shower’s performance this year, we can only hope the weather cooperates for this shooting star display. Orion can be found high in the southeast sky at 3:00am. (See accompanying star map.)

In conclusion, please remember that the local observatories are open for you to explore the beauty of our universe. Be sure to check their respective websites for public observing schedules and closures. If you step outside your home and note that it is overcast/rainy, then it is likely the observatories will be closed for the evening. Seagrave Memorial Observatory in North Scituate is open every clear Saturday night. (Note: Seagrave will be closed on October 14 due to our annual AstroAssembly convention.) Ladd Observatory in Providence is open every Tuesday night. The Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory at the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick is open every clear Wednesday night. And our good friends down at Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown open every clear Friday night.

Keep your eyes to the skies.

David A. Huestis


Related Slideshow: 20 Things to Look Forward to This Fall in New England - 2017

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The Changing of the Leaves

One of the cool things about the fall season is the leaves on the trees and the colors that they change too.

According to smokeymountain.com, prime foliage season in New England is late September into early October.

Look forward to an enjoyable walk around the neighborhood and see how many different colors you can pick out, or just enjoy the beauty.

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Pumpkin Picking

The fall season signifies the return of pumpkins. Pumpkin beer, pumpkin pie and most of all pumpkin picking.

Pumpkin picking is a timeless event for families, especially those with young kids who will love to just run around and grab whichever pumpkin looks good to them.

Jaswell's Farm or Barden Family Orchard are great places to get started.

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The Big E 

The Big E in West Springfield, Massachusetts features a circus spectacular, Mardi Gras parade, agricultural competitions, arts & crafts, food contests, live music, and midway. 

The Big runs from September 15 to October 1. 

Click here for more information

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Great Pumpkin Festival 

The Great Pumpkin Festival at the EcoTarium in Worcester is a must attend this fall in New England. 

The event features more than 1000 carved pumpkins, live entertainment, family fun with trick-or-treating, displays and more.

Click here for more information

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Sam Adams Octoberfest Beer

One of the fun things about the changing of seasons is the changing of beer flavors and with fall comes Sam Adams Octoberfest.

The Oktoberfest idea was born in 1810 when Munich celebrated the Crown Prince's wedding with a 16-day party with a special beer.

Sam Adams builds off of that idea with a beer that is perfect for the season.

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Phantom Gourmet Food Festival

The Phantom Gourmet Food Festival is an event to look forward too and it will be held on September 12 from 12- 4 p.m. on two streets next to Fenway Park.

Tickets are $40 in advance and online and will go up to $50 at the event.

The ticket includes sampling 100 of Phantom's foods from hot dogs and pizza to pulled pork and more. Beer and wine will be served on the street.

Get more information here.

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The New England Patriots Return

The NFL returns and that means the defending Super Bowl Champion New England Patriots are back. 

The Patriots have won two of the last three Super Bowls and are heavily favored to win another this season. 

The Patriots kick off their season on Thursday, September 7 against the Kansas City Chiefs. 

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Apple Picking

A great fall family event, especially those with young kids, is apple picking.

Nothing more fun than grabbing the nicest looking apple that you can find, giving it a quick wash off and then biting into it. Delicious.

Farm Fresh Rhode Island and Phantom Farm are two great places to go and pick yourself some apples in Rhode Island.

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Columbus Day Festival on Federal Hill

Filled with great music and even better food, the Columbus Day Festival is a fall event to look forward to every season.

The feast will take place from October 7 through October 9. 

Click here for more information.

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Fall Boat Ride to Block Island

Though the summer weather is winding down, there is still great weather coming and great opportunities to get on the ferry and head over to Block Island for the day, or maybe even multiple days.

Fall trips to Block Island are something to look forward too.

Click here for more information.

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Wearing Fleece

For those nights, or days, where it's just a bit cooler out, there is nothing more comfortable than throwing on a fleece jacket and settling in for a fun day ahead.

The arrival of fall means it's time to start breaking those jackets out.

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Drinking Apple Cider

Can't you already taste it? The sweet taste of apple cider returns with the fall season.

Head over to your local market and buy some, or maybe you know how to make your own or have your own recipe. Either way, drinking apple cider is something to look forward too.

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Attend Waterfire in Providence

Summer may be nearing the end, but Waterfire 

Waterfire is the premiere event in Providence and if you haven't gotten to one yet during the summer or fall season, now is the time to plan.

Waterfire is a great night out with different vendors, music and other entertainment lining the city streets while the river is lit up by the fire. For a really romantic and fun night, hop on a gondola ride.

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The Return of Your Favorite TV Shows

One of the down sides of summer is that there is very little to watch on TV as far as new shows go. Thank goodness for Netflix and or HBO on demand.

However, the return of the fall season means the return of all the popular TV shows like Gotham, Game of Thrones, Arrow and several others.

Look forward to having something to watch at night after a long day at work.

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Who's not looking forward to Halloween? Not looking forward to dressing up as your favorite character or as just a very spooky looking person and going out and collecting candy to last you days, months and longer.

Who isn't looking to forward to decorating their houses to make it the creepiest house on the block.

Halloween is great for kids and adults alike and is certainly something to look forward to.

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Great Golf Weather Remaining

The end of Summer does not mean the end of golf season.

The fall is a great time of year for golfing at Harbor Lights or any of the courses across the state.  

The fall offers some of the best golfing weather of the year, not too hot and not too cold. 

Golf season has not left.

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Harpoon Brewery Oktoberfest in Boston

Harpoon Brewery will hold their 27th annual Octoberfest from September 29 through September 30. 

The event will feature Harpoon brews, bratwursts, chicken dancing and German chocolate cake eating contests as well as Oompah music.

Harpoon Brewery is located at 306 Northern Ave in Boston.

Click here for more information or for tickets.

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Roger Waters at TD Garden 

One of the musical highlights of the fall season is rock n' roll legend Roger Waters coming to Boston's TD Garden. 

The former Pink Floyd star will play two shows in Boston, the first on Wednesday, September 27 and the second on Thursday, September 28. 

Click here for more information 

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King Richards Faire 

Dive into history at King Richard's Faire, New England's oldest and largest Renaissance Festival and most beloved annual fall event. Dress up, play games and learn a lot at a fair that is a great fall event for the entire family.

The Fair runs from September 2 through October 22. 

Click here for more information 

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Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park Zoo

What better way to spend a fall evening than strolling through Roger Williams Park Zoo and viewing some cool Jack-O-Lanterns. 

The Jack-O-Lantern Spectacular at Roger Williams Park is a Rhode Island and New England Fall staple featuring thousands of illuminated pumpkins from October 5 to November 5 with admission from 6 p.m. to 10:30 p.m. 

Click here for more information 


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