Stargazing in 2019: January to June
This year, we mark the 50th anniversary of Scouts Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin taking their first steps on the Moon. To celebrate this incredible milestone, look to the stars and see some of the amazing celestial sightings 2019 has to offer.
Here, we’ve compiled some of the more exciting opportunities for stargazing from the first half of the year. Any of these events would present young people with a great chance to work on earning their Astronomer Activity or Space Activity Badge.
The beginning of the month saw the first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, reach its peak in the predawn hours of 4 January. There’ll also be chances this month to view the International Space Station from the UK. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has set up a Spot the Station website, with more info on when you can spot it from your area in the UK.
20 January has a very exciting night in store, as Earth’s shadow will creep over the full Moon, turning the pale silver orb red during the year’s only total lunar eclipse. In a further cosmic coincidence, this full Moon will also be especially close to Earth that night, which makes it a supermoon as well.
For very early risers, there’s also the conjunction of Venus and Jupiter on 22 January to look forward to. Given these planets are the third and fourth brightest celestial bodies in our galaxy respectively, after the Sun and Moon, it shouldn’t be difficult to spot them. They’re expected to be within 2.5 degrees of each other.
The second full supermoon of the year will occur at 15.53pm on 19 February. This Moon has been known as the Snow Moon or the Hunger Moon, as its appearance often coincides with heavy snowfall in some parts of the world.
27 February will see Mercury reach its greatest eastern elongation of 18.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury, as it’ll be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky.
The first day of spring for the northern hemisphere is the vernal equinox on 20 March. The next night, the third and final supermoon of 2019 will be visible. The Earth will be between the Moon and the Sun, and the Moon’s face will be fully illuminated. This phase will occur around 01.43am.
On 4 April, the Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and so won’t be visible in the night sky. This stage of the lunar cycle is known as the New Moon. This year most of them will occur around the beginning of each month: a full calendar can be found here. A New Moon is the best time to observe faint objects in the night sky, such as galaxies and star clusters, as there is no moonlight to interfere.
The month ends with the Lyrids meteor shower. The shower is not expected to be the most visible of the year; best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
Early May will treat astronomers to the Eta Aquarids meteor shower, an above average shower expected to peak during the night of 6 May into the morning of 7 May.
The month will end with a ‘seasonal Blue Moon’ on 18 May. Since this is the third of four full Moons in a season, it is known as a Blue Moon. Normally, seasons only have three full Moons. This rare event only takes place once every few years, birthing the phrase, ‘once in a blue moon.’
10 June will present Scouts looking to make progress with their Photographer Activity Badge with the chance to photograph Jupiter. Our galaxy’s biggest planet will be at opposition, meaning it will be at its closest approach to Earth, while its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of year and will be visible all night.
Mercury will also be at its greatest eastern elongation again on 23 June, two days after the June solstice. If you missed it in February, this is another good chance to view Mercury.