Here's the latest Night Sky column by Argus astronomy correspondent Jonathan Powell:


In September, NASA’s OSIRIS-REx, the first US mission to collect samples from an asteroid, safely returned its precious cargo to Earth.

On Sunday, September 24, a capsule containing the samples and tethered to a parachute, landed in Utah. The contents of the capsule are currently being examined not just by American scientists, but institutions and space agencies around the globe. After six years and a 3.86-billion-mile round trip to visit and collect samples from an asteroid named Bennu, the anticipation to find out exactly what was returned is immeasurable.

Details of the findings will be released on Wednesday, October 11, via a NASA broadcast from Johnson Space Centre in Houston.

Comet C/2023 P1 Nishimura

Comet Nishimura survived its journey around the Sun and is currently heading out towards the far reaches of our solar system, with the next scheduled rendezvous with Earth some 435 years into the future.

Some comets don’t survive their encounter when with rounding the Sun. Slight course alterations can bring the comet too close to our nearest star, resulting in a fiery demise.

However, Comet Nishimura, discovered by Nishimura of Kakegawa, Japan, whilst photographing the night sky, survived that and more, dealing with an intense solar storm, as charged particles briefly robbed the comet of its tail.

Astronomers called this a ‘Disconnection Event’, (DE), where the tail is snipped off and carried away from the comet’s head, a most strange and intriguing cometary phenomena.

Despite its 400 year plus orbit, Comet Nishimura is classed as a “local comet”, as its path keeps it inside our own solar system, unlike other comets which enter our realm from further afield, interstellar space. At its closest to Earth on September 12, it passed at 78 million miles distant, with closest approach to the Sun occurring on September 17, at 27 million miles distant.

Partial Lunar Eclipse

This month sees the opportunity to witness a partial lunar eclipse as the Moon passes through a shadow cast by the Earth via light from the Sun.

South Wales Argus: Partial Lunar Eclipse

A partial lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth moves between the Sun and the full Moon, but when all three are not aligned precisely. Only a portion of the Moon’s visible surface will move into the dark part of the Earth’s shadow.

The shadows cast by the Earth are split into two main categories, the “umbra”, the innermost and darkest part of the shadow, and the “penumbra”, the lighter region of the shadow.

In a very loose translation from the Latin, “umbra” translates into “shadow” with “penumbra” translating as “hangs on the shadow” or “almost a shadow”.

Observing the partial lunar eclipse On the evening of Saturday, October 28, from 7pm onwards we will gradually see a portion of the lunar surface darken.

The Moon will first enter the penumbral part of the shadow, which will be difficult to spot.

However, over the next hour or so keeping watching, as the Moon’s limb or edge, enters the umbra, generating a distinct darkening which will be most noticeable around the Moon’s southwest limb.

The Moon will eventually leave the shadow of firstly the umbra, then the penumbra, with the partial eclipse finishing by 11.30pm.

During the partial eclipse, and indeed after, there will also be an excellent opportunity to spot the planet Jupiter, appearing as a bright object down and to the left of the Moon.

Meteor Showers

The annual Orionids meteor shower commences at the start of the month, peaking during the third week of October, before tapering off into the first week of November.

One of the more reliable annual showers, the Orionids tend to generate the same number of meteors every year as the Earth passes through a well-established field of debris to generate the ‘shooting stars.’ This particular debris has been created in the orbital wake of Halley’s Comet, with an assortment of small rocks entering our atmosphere at speeds of around 41 miles per second, burning up in a streak of light.

Observing the meteor shower

The Orionids is associated with the constellation of Orion The Hunter, from which the meteors will appear to radiate from.

The shower peaks in the small hours of Saturday, October 21, but is certainly worth a watch either side of that date.

After midnight and onward until dawn, look in a south-easterly direction.

Once you sight a meteor or two, you will be able to trace its path back to the area where Orion is positioned.

We can expect 15 to 20 meteors per hour.

Remember that all observing can be done with the naked eye, so there is no need for a telescope or binoculars.

Hunter’s Moon

Saturday, October 28, sees a Hunter’s Moon grace our skies.

Associated with the time of year when certain tribes engaged in hunting game to stock up on food before autumn turns into winter, the Anglo-Saxons gave October’s full Moon this name, with the Celts naming it the ‘Seed Fall Moon’, and the Native Americans, ‘Drying Rice Moon’, or ‘Falling Leaves Moon’.

Annular Solar Eclipse

For those who happen to be travelling to the United States in the next week or so, there is the chance to catch an annular eclipse of the Sun on Saturday, October 14, which will be visible from the Western United States, central America, Columbia and Brazil. Unfortunately, due to the track of the eclipse shadow, nothing will be visible from Europe.

The event itself is quite a significant one in the astronomical calendar, as this eclipse has the tag ‘annular’ for at mid-eclipse, the Moon, situated at that point in a distant part of its own orbit, will pass directly in front of the Sun.

However, the Sun, appearing slightly larger in the sky on the day than the Moon, will appear as a bright ring, or annulus, around the Moon, making for quite a spectacular sight, indeed a ‘ring of fire’.

Beginner’s Corner

As a help to beginners to find their way around the night sky, use the Moon during October to try and locate some bright stars on view.

On Saturday, October 7, the Moon is positioned to the south of Pollux, the brightest star in the constellation of Gemini, the Twins.

On Tuesday, October 10, the Moon is positioned to the north of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo, the Lion.

On Saturday, October 14, the Moon is positioned to the north of Spica, the brightest star in Virgo, the Virgin.

On Wednesday, October 18, the Moon is positioned to the north of Antares in Scorpius, the Scorpion.

On Tuesday, October 31, the Moon is positioned to the north of Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus, the Bull.


Jupiter simply dazzles in the southern half of the night sky during October, positioned in the constellation of Aries and on view from around 7pm onward.

There will be a nice pairing of the partial lunar eclipse and Jupiter on the evening of Saturday, October 28.

The next evening, Sunday, October 29, the Moon will be positioned between Jupiter to the right and the Pleiades star cluster, (Seven Sisters), to the left.

Saturn can also be seen in the southern half of the sky, positioned well to the right of Jupiter in the constellation of Aquarius.

Setting around 2.30am, use the Moon as a guide to finding Saturn, with our nearest neighbour near to the ringed planet on the evenings of Monday, October 23 and 24 respectively.

The morning sky is dominated by Venus which during October, will rise at around 3am. The ‘Morning Star’ will be accompanied on the morning of Tuesday, October 10, by a crescent Moon, making for a lovely sight against the dark backdrop.

Positioned just above the two will be the bright star Regulus in the constellation of Leo.

On Tuesday, October 24, Venus reaches its greatest western elongation, (highest position in the sky), whereby Venus’ position, in its orbit around the Sun, is at tangent to us here on Earth.

British Summer Time Ends

British Summer Time, (BST), officially comes to an end on the morning of Sunday, October 29, at 2am. The clocks go back one hour to 1am.

Out and About - Society Meetings

Barry Astronomical Society – Monday, October 30 – 7pm - ‘Suburban Astronomical Images’– Nick Hart. Barry Community Centre, Cemetery Road, Barry, CF62 8BP.

Bridgend Astronomical Society – Wednesday, October 18 – 7.30pm - ‘The Story of John Goodricke’ – Dave Powell, MBE. Bridgend Tennis, Squash, and Bowls Club, Halo Rec Centre, Angel Street, CF31 4AH.

Heads of the Valley Astronomical Society – Tuesday, October 24 – 7pm - ‘Rocketry Science’ – Dr Phillip Charlesworth. Learning Action Centre, 20 James Street, Ebbw Vale, Gwent, NP23 6JG.

South Wales Argus: Jonathan PowellJonathan Powell (Image: Supplied)

Moon Phases

  • Third Quarter: October 6;
  • New Moon: October 14;
  • First Quarter: October 22;
  • Full Moon: October 28.

Sunrise/Sunset Times

  • Start of October: Sun rises at 7.12am, sets at 6.50pm.
  • End of October: Sun rises at 7.03am, sets at 4.47pm.

Times adjusted accordingly for the end of BST.