Stargazing in 2019: July to December
2019 is the 50th anniversary of Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin – both Scouts – becoming the first men to walk on the Moon. You can commemorate this remarkable achievement by looking to the sky, as the year offers some awe-inspiring celestial sightings.
Here, we’ve compiled some of the best chances for stargazing from the second 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.
On 9 July, Saturn kicks off the month by being at opposition. This ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth, while its face will be illuminated fully by the Sun. Saturn will be at its brightest point of the year and visible all night, which means this is the best time to view the planet.
Later, 16 July will see a partial lunar eclipse take place, while 28 July going into 29 July is when the Delta Aquarids meteor shower takes place. Meteor showers happen when our planet crosses the path of a comet. When a comet gets close the Sun and warms up, it sheds pieces that spread out into that comet’s path. This debris hits the Earth’s upper atmosphere at about 90,000 miles per hour, vaporising and becoming meteors or ‘shooting stars’.
From 17 July until 24 August, the Perseids meteor shower will take place. The Perseids is famous for being one of the best observable showers, due to the large number of bright meteors. The peak is expected to be during the night of 12 August and the morning of 13 August. Best viewing is after midnight, although the nearly full Moon will block out most of the fainter meteors.
Named after the Greek god of the sea, Neptune will appear at opposition on 9 September. The blue giant will be at its closest approach to Earth and fully illuminated, which means it’ll be brighter than any time of the year and visible all night. This is the best time to view Neptune; although given its distance from Earth, it’ll appear as a tiny blue dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
After a Harvest Moon, which is the full Moon of this month, the September equinox takes place on 23 September.
A pair of meteor showers take place during October. First up is the small but unusual Draconids. This is unlike most showers, in that the best viewing is in the early evening rather than early morning. The peak is around 8 October.
The second, the Orionids, is an average shower, formed by dust grains left behind by Halley’s Comet. The best viewing is expected after midnight on 22 October.
The month ends with Uranus at opposition on 27 October. Due to its distance, it’ll only appear as a tiny blue-green dot in the vast majority of telescopes. However, this is the best time of the year to view the planet.
The most notable event of November is the transit of Mercury across the Sun. Viewers with telescopes and approved solar filters will be able to watch the dark disk of Mercury move across the Sun’s burning face. This event is extremely rare, with the next transit expected around 2039.
Other celestial events during November include the Taurids meteor shower, peaking early on 6 November; the Leonids meteor shower, peaking during the night of 17 November; and a second conjunction of Venus and Jupiter this year, with the bright planets only 1.4 degrees from each other.
For those brave enough to face the cold, December has further stargazing treats in store. There is the Geminids meteor shower, peaking late on 13 December, as well as the Ursids meteor shower, taking place during the December solstice on 22 December.
For any Scouts in Asia, there’s even an annular solar eclipse on Boxing Day to witness. Annular simply means ring-shaped, and refers to the Moon being too small to completely obscure the Sun, leaving a ring of light visible. For those of us in Europe, we’ll have to wait until 2021 to witness this event from home. Don’t forget to bring an eclipse viewer!