Meteor showers and Blood Moon hours: Things to see stargazing in the West Midlands this October
If you like watching the skies, October will be a big month with plenty of opportunities to dust off the binoculars and telescopes - there are planets, meteor showers, a partial eclipse and a Hunter's Moon in the schedule for stargazers.
The recent phenomenon of Jupiter making its way closer to Earth than it has in many people's lives recently made headlines, and anyone bitten by the stargazing bug has a packed month of night sky spectacles to look forward to.
There are a number of spots in the West Midlands that make good stargazing sites, most notably in the Shropshire Hills where four distinct spots have been designated Dark Sky Discovery sites.
They are the car parks at Carding Mill Valley, Cross Dyke, Pole Cottage and the Shooting Box. All four sites have the darkest Milky Way Class rating, meaning that the skies are dark enough to see the Milky Way with the naked eye.
The Wrekin near Telford is another Dark Sky Discovery site, while Cannock Chase is home to no fewer than seven sites recommended by Go Stargazing based on light pollution, distance from nearby towns and parking provision.
Those sites are the car parks at Brindley Bottom, Camp Field, Coppice Hill, Penkridge Bank, the White House, Stile Cop and Seven Springs.
So what is there on offer in the night skies this October?
Mercury's greatest elongation, October 8
First up will be a good chance to see the planet Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system.
Mercury is the closest planet to our sun and the smallest of the lot (since Pluto was reclassified as a dwarf planet in 2006).
Those factors together mean Mercury is particularly hard to spot in the sky, and you should never point binoculars or a telescope in the direction of the sun.
So your best chance will be within a week or so of a "greatest elongation" like the one due on October 8, the point at which the planet is farthest from the Sun in the morning sky. These periods occur twice every 116 days or so.
If you're lucky, you may be able to see Mercury with the naked eye shortly before sunrise.
Draconid meteor shower, October 8/9
The Draconid meteor shower is the first of two meteor showers to annually grace our skies in October. The Draconid meteors are named for the constellation Draco the Dragon, and the spectacle is created when the earth passes through the dust debris left by a particular comet.
You don't need any special equipment or skills to watch a meteor shower, but your chances will be better in a secluded spot away from any city lights. Your eyes may take 15 to 20 minutes to adjust to the dark at the venue.
Hunter's Moon, October 9
October's Full Moon, which should be visible on October 9, is known as the Hunter's Moon, and sometimes the Blood Moon or Sanguine Moon.
A full moon, when the moon appears completely lit up, happens about once a month and for centuries the phenomenon has been tied to folklore and tradition around the world.
Traditionally people in the Northern Hemisphere spent October preparing for winter by hunting animals for their meat and preserving it, hence the name.
Orionid meteor shower, October 21/22
Orionids are active every year in October, usually peaking around October 20/21. At peak times, up to 20 meteors are visible every hour.
It is the second meteor shower of the month, after the Draconids.
The Orionid meteor shower is the second meteor shower created by dust from Halley's Comet, after the Eta Aquarids in May.
Orionids are named after Orion, because the meteors seem to emerge or radiate from the same area in the sky as the constellation.
Partial solar eclipse, October 25
This will be the second partial solar eclipse of the year. The moon will pass in front of part of the sun's disc, appearing to partially block it out.
It will be visible, conditions allowing, from most of Europe, northern Africa, the Middle East, and western parts of Asia.
According to Timeanddate.com, from the West Midlands it is unlikely that much of the sun will actually appear obscured, with the eclipse action likely to be visible for about an hour and 40 minutes from around 10am, and the largest portion of obscured sun at about 11am.
New moon, October 25
The New Moon is when the sun and moon are aligned, with the sun and Earth on opposite sides of the moon.
There isn't necessarily a lot going on to see during a new moon, but because of the position of the sun relative to the moon, the sky will be especially dark and it will be a good opportunity to look upwards and spot some of the objects that are out there - planets, nebulae, galaxies or just the twinkling stars.