This month two celestial treats await us. The first occurs during the day on Saturday, October 14. Most of us in the northwest and southwest U.S. will experience an annular eclipse of the Sun by the Moon. An annular eclipse occurs when the Moon’s orbit takes it far enough from the Earth such that is does not cover the entire Sun. What we see, if we are lucky enough to be in the path of maximum shadowing, is a black moon surrounded by bright ring of light from the Sun.

For this eclipse, the path of maximum annularity starts in southern Oregon and proceeds southeast across Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Texas. This path will range from 184 to 245 kilometers or, 114 to 152 miles wide. Maximum annularity begins on the west coast at 9:16 PDT. For us here in New Mexico, the center line enters just south of the 4 corners and heads southeast passing just a little north of Albuquerque and directly over Hobbs, New Mexico before entering Texas. In central New Mexico annularity begins at approximately 10:37 MDT with a duration of 4 minutes and 50 seconds. If you are north or south of the central line your time of maximum annularity will vary.  A 75 % partial eclipse will be viewable as far north as Colorado Springs and as far south as Chihuahua, Mexico. Socorro, NM is well within the path of total annularity.

Viewing any solar eclipse can be very dangerous to your eyes. NEVER look directly at the Sun without proper eye protection. Sunglasses DO NOT provide adequate protection. If possible, use approved eclipse eyewear. Another way to view an eclipse is to project the Sun’s image onto a white piece of paper or screen using binoculars or a small telescope. You can also use approved filters to cover binoculars or a telescope’s aperture. Another interesting way to view the eclipse is to stand under a shade tree. Small pinholes in leaves will project the Sun’s image onto the ground.

Our second celestial treat occurs one week later on the night of 21/22 October when we can view the Orionid meteor shower. We’ve all probably heard of Halley’s comet. While we only see the comet once every 76 years, the Earth plows through the debris trail left by Halley every year at this time. This year, the Moon sets shortly before midnight providing for dark skies for the peak of the shower which will occur between 2 a.m. and dawn. Look towards the eastern horizon just to the left of the constellation of Orion. The Orionids normally have a very broad peak so if you get clouded out on the 22nd, try again on the 23rd. The signature of the Orionids is that they are generally very fast and very bright meteors. During the peak of the shower, you should be able to see 15 to 20 meteors per hour.

The Moon will be last quarter on the 6th, new on the 14th, first quarter on the 22nd and full on the 28th. Looking east on the 1st, at about 10:30 p.m., the Moon will be just to the left and slightly above Jupiter. Looking east on the 10th, about one hour before sunrise, the waning crescent moon will be above and to the left of Venus. Looking east on the 28th, just after sunset. The full Moon will rise and be just above and to the right of Jupiter.

The good news is that the first Saturday Star Party will resume this month on Saturday the 7th at the Etscorn Campus Observatory.  Numerous telescopes will be available for guests to view celestial objects. To reach the observatory take Canyon drive past the golf course to the 4-way stop. Turn right, drive down through the dip. At the top of the dip bare left and follow the signs to observatory parking. Sunset will occur around 6:44 MDT so you may want to arrive a bit earlier.

Clear Skies!

Jon Spargo

New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club

October 2023

Jon Spargo, New Mexico Tech Astronomy Club