This is a short calendar of this week’s major astronomical events you should witness:
October 19, 2010: Jupiter will be positioned below the Moon and will remain there throughout the night. The giant planet will appear like a brilliant star. Using binoculars, you could spot its largest moons arrayed around the planet like tiny stars.
October 20, 2010: Comet Hartley 2 will make its closest approach to Earth, coming within 11.2 million miles. For a few days around October 20, the comet should be bright enough to view with the naked eye in the early morning sky. You will, however, need to be far away from the glow of city lights. In early November, NASA’s Deep Impact spacecraft will make a close flyby of the comet and observe it from a distance of about 600 miles.
October 20, 2010: The Moon and the planet Jupiter will line up in the east. Jupiter will look like a brilliant star to the right of the Moon.
October 21 & 22, 2010: Peak of the Orionids meteor shower. It is an average shower producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. The Moon will be almost full, so it’s glare will wash out this year’s shower. Nevertheless, a few of the brightest meteors may be visible with the naked eye in the eastern sky after midnight. This shower usually peaks on the 21st, but it is highly irregular. Some meteors may be seen any time from October 17 to 25 if you are far away from the city lights.
The Moon has a big impact on the visibility of celestial bodies in the night sky. So here are the Moon’s phases for this week: