Although 2020 offered few positives, who can forget wonders like comet Neowise with its notable tail, stopping by for a brief July visit before disappearing again for another 7,000 years? Or perhaps last December’s conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter helped lend a little perspective when winter days seemed bleakest.
Easily adapted to physical distancing protocols, stargazing works as the perfect outdoor activity all year round. Simply gear up in weather-appropriate apparel and prepare to be dazzled. And while a basic pair of binoculars (10 X 50) might enhance your viewing pleasure, most of the following night sky events require nothing more than the naked eye and a little patience.
New to astronomy and hoping to keep things simple? Even novice star gazers easily locate the Big Dipper’s iconic ladle outline high overhead, or broad-shouldered Orion, currently lounging between battles across the south eastern horizon. Winter’s clear post-sunset sky provides excellent backdrop for checking out the fuzzy nebula in the sword hanging from the great warrior’s three star belt, or the tiny Pleiades star cluster twinkling magically right above him.
Morning Planet Rendezvous
Wake up half an hour before dawn during the first half of March to see Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn congregate along the south eastern horizon. Brilliant Jupiter and much fainter Mercury on its left, unabashedly steal the show with a close, side by side appearance March 5th .
Every year a number of meteor showers regularly blitz the night sky, and while some deliver more shooting stars than others, this summer’s Perseids peak August 11th and 12th under minimal moonlight. Should cloudy weather occur, try your luck another night. Bright meteors often streak across the heavens throughout much of August!
Partial Lunar Eclipse
Die-hard eclipse fans should rise at 1 a.m. November 19 th to watch most of our nearest celestial neighbour ever so slowly slip into hiding behind earth’s shadow. But if you need your sleep and just want to see the moon turn dusky red as maximum coverage occurs, set your alarm for three hours later.
The Aurora Borealis seemed to avoid 2020 like the plague (pun totally intended), but 2021 and the next few years should promise more action from these heavenly streaks of dancing light. Dependent on solar activity which runs on eleven year patterns, the aurora should see the beginnings of the cycle’s upward swing in 2021!
The International Space Station
This bright, man-made wonder regularly zooms across the Bay of Quinte region. Simply type “NASA – spot the station”, along with the name of your nearest large centre (eg. Belleville, Ontario) into your favourite search engine to find out when and where the ISS will appear overhead next.