Get away from the lights of the city, and the night sky comes alive. (Well, not literally—unless you’re a fan of The X Files.) The cottage is the perfect place for serious stargazing—so here are five not-to-be-missed astronomical events that you can watch without a telescope.
Delta Aquarids meteor shower, July 28-29
This meteor shower actually begins on July 12, but its “nominal peak” will be July 28 or 29, and then will continue through almost until the end of August. Thought to be produced by debris from the Marsden and Kracht comets (or possibly from comet 96P Machholz), the shower is best viewed after midnight and before dawn, with 3 am (Daylight Saving Time) being the optimal time. Nicely, the moon will be waning in late July, meaning its light won’t impede your view too much. To see the shower, look towards the southern sky on a clear, dark night. At its peak, you may be able to see 10-20 meteors per hour.
Perseids meteor shower, August 11-12
Better known than the Delta Aquarids shower, the Perseids has up to 50 meteors an hour at its peak, which falls on August 12 this year. In fact, if you start watching the Perseids in the second week of August, chances are you’ll also see Delta Aquarids meteors at the same time. To watch the Perseids, find a dark, open sky—the meteors fly in many different directions, so a wide vantage point is ideal. And although watching later is better (like, 2 or 3 am), you may be able to see “earthgrazer” meteors—long, slow horizontal meteors—in the early evening. Give yourself at least an hour of watching time—not only does it take up to 20 minutes for your eyes to fully adjust to the darkness, but the meteors tend to appear in spurts, with lulls in between.
Mercury at greatest Eastern elongation, August 16
A planet’s elongation refers to its position in relation to the sun, with Earth as a reference point. When a planet is at its greatest elongation, it appears furthest from the sun when viewed from Earth. On August 16, Mercury will reach its greatest Eastern elongation, making it particularly visible in the western sky just after sunset.
Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter, August 27
Shortly after sunset on August 27, Venus and Jupiter will appear to pass close enough to each other to touch—even though they’re actually 450 million miles apart. Without a telescope, what you’ll see is a particularly bright spot in the sky, although the conjunction may be too low on the horizon to be seen easily. While Venus-Jupiter conjunctions aren’t uncommon—they happen about once a year—this one is especially close. If you’ve got a telescope, you’ll also be able to see Jupiter’s moons.
Neptune at opposition, September 3
Celestial bodies are at opposition when they are at opposite sides of the sky from each other. In the case of Neptune at opposition, this means the planet is at the opposite side of the sky from the sun, as seen from earth—meaning this is a great opportunity to see the pale blue ice ball. While you likely won’t be able to see it with the naked eye, you should be able to spot it with a good pair of binoculars and a decent star map.
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