With crackling leaves underfoot and shorter days on the horizon, it's time to stow away the summer gear, break out the sweatshirts and make our transition into cool evenings and frosty mornings. Below are just a handful of celestial highlights to look forward to in this season of pumpkins, apple cider and the occasional high-flying witch.
Darkness under a New Moon (Oct. 8)
October's New Moon will give way to dark skies and excellent opportunities to view everything from Uranus to galaxies, star clusters and nebulae.
Catch the Draconids meteor shower (Oct. 7 and 8)
The first of two meteor showers this month, the Draconids get their name from the northern constellation of Draco the Dragon from which they appear to radiate. This particular shower is caused by Earth passing through debris shed by a periodic, 1.2-mile-wide comet called 21P/Giacobini–Zinner.
This year's Draconids display will benefit from a New Moon, with dark skies making even the faintest shooting stars visible. Past Draconids have sometimes surprised astronomers with their extreme intensity. The showers of 1933 and 1946 in particular produced thousands of shooting stars per hour and rank as two of the best meteor storms of the 20th century.
Should history repeat itself, the evenings of Oct. 7 or 8 should give you the best shot at witnessing peak displays.
Look for the zodiacal light (Oct. 15-30)
The triangular glow of the zodiacal light taken from the European Southern Observatory's La Silla Observatory in Chile in September 2009 only minutes after sunset. (Photo: European Southern Observatory/Flickr)
Spring and fall are the two best seasons of the year to catch the haunting zodiacal light, so if you missed it earlier this year, the latter half of October offers another opportunity. Visible only to those under relatively dark skies, this celestial phenomenon looks like light pollution but is actually sunlight glinting off solar dust. A 2010 study found that nearly 85 percent of the dust was caused by fragmentation from Jupiter-family comets.
To spot it, look for a pyramid-shaped glow rising above the eastern horizon just before dawn. And if you're curious to learn more, check out our in-depth photo investigation of this fascinating celestial phenomenon.
Pale blue Uranus draws near (Oct. 23)
The haunting pale blue color of Uranus as captured by the approaching Voyager 2 spacecraft in 1986. (Photo: NASA/Flickr)
Uranus, the seventh planet from the sun, will make its closest approach this year on Oct. 23, placing it a "mere" 1.7 billion miles from our backyards. Despite this little pale dot being its best and brightest, it will be barely visible to the naked eye. Those wishing for a closer look should rely on a good pair of binoculars or a telescope.
Take part in International Observe the Moon Night (Oct. 20)
Grab a telescope or binoculars and take part in International Observe the Moon Night on Oct. 20. (Photo: Kim Seng/Flickr)
Without our moon, life on Earth would be much different. Our tides would be weaker, our nights much darker, and solar and lunar eclipses would cease to exist. The moon has also played a major role in slowing down the Earth's rotation over billions of years. If it wasn't there from the beginning to cause tidal friction, our days would last between 6 to 8 hours and a year would encompass between 1,100 to 1,400 days!
In honor of our closest neighbor in the sky, Oct. 20 celebrates International Observe the Moon Night. Since 2010, the organization behind the campaign has been sponsoring events around the world to encourage people to take time out of life on Earth to look up and gaze at the wonder that is our moon.
"Each year, thousands of people participate at museums, planetaria, schools, universities, observatories, parks, businesses, and backyards around the world," the site declares. "Anyone can participate. All you need to do is look up!"
Presently, the site counts 153 (and counting!) events taking place around the world to celebrate our closest celestial neighbor. To see if you're near any, hit the official site here.
Look up for the Orionids meteor shower (Oct. 21)
The Orionids meteor shower will peak on the evening of Oct. 21. (Photo: Jeffrey Sullivan/Flickr)
The Orionids meteor shower, created by debris left behind by Halley's Comet, is set to peak in the pre-dawn hours of Oct. 21. As many as 10 to 20 (and sometimes as many as 50 to 70) shooting stars will be visible each hour. Unfortunately, with the full moon approaching, only the brightest fireballs will be visible.
While the Orionids tend to originate from the constellation of Orion the Hunter, most displays can be viewed from any point in the evening sky. Grab a blanket, get comfortable and look up. Chances are, you'll quickly find yourself with a glut of wishes.
The rise of an unusual Hunter's Moon (Oct. 24)
A full moon rises over Lick Observatory at the University of California. (Photo: fpettinati/Flickr)
October is generally referred to as the Hunter's Moon, so-called by Native Americans for the time of year when people would hunt to build up stores for winter. With the start of frost season, it's also been referred to as the Freezing Moon and the Ice Moon.
The 2018 Hunter's Moon will rise on Oct. 24, with peak fullness coming during the daylight hours at 12:45 p.m. EDT.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in September 2017 and has been updated with new information.