Science

The Naked-Eye Stargazer’s Guide To Summer 2022: One Supermoon, Two Meteor Showers And Saturn At Its Best

Summer is a great time for stargazing. Sure, the nights are at their shortest, but it’s when most of us finally get a chance to spend time outdoors on vacation. As the Sun sets and dusk descends, night’s window begins to open, revealing untold thousands of stars and, this season, a particularly gorgeous planet—Saturn.

From the stars of summer and classic seasonal constellations to some notable events to watch out for, here’s everything you need to go stargazing this summer:

1. Saturn at opposition

When: August 14, 2022

Where: rising in the east

The ringed planet is tonight at its brightest and biggest of the entire year. That’s because our planet is between the Earth and Saturn, an annual occasion that astronomers call opposition. Saturn will rise at in the east at dusk and set in the west. From mid-latitudes of the northern hemisphere it never gets particularly high, and it will remain relatively low in the southern night sky. You can see it easily with the naked eye though you’ll need any small telescope to see its rings.

2. Moon, Mars and the Pleiades

When: August 19, 2022

Where: southern night sky

Today is the Last Quarter Moon phase, which is when our natural satellite rises after midnight, clearing the way for 10 nights of dark, mostly moonless skies that will be ideal for both stargazing and astrophotography. As a bonus, the nights are now getting longer, and the Milky Way and its bright galactic centre are visible just after dark in the southern sky. However, the reason to stay up late and watch the moonrise is that it will be just 2.5° from Mars and also very close to the Pleiades open cluster of stars.

3. A crescent Moon and Venus

When: July 26, 2022

Where: east-northeastern sky

A lovely conjunction of Venus—the brightest planet—and a delicate 5%-lit crescent Moon is arguably the most beautiful sight in this week’s night sky. Look low in the east-northeast before sunrise.

You can spend each evening this week looking for the waxing crescent Moon, which will get slightly brighter and higher in the sky with each passing evening.

4. The Teapot

When: all summer

Where: southeastern night sky

The vast summer constellation of Sagittarius “the Archer” which is positioned across the densest star fields of the Milky Way galaxy. It’s also over the galaxy’s center, so while you look in the direction of Sagittarius you’re looking at galactic central point. The most interesting sight here isn’t the shape of the archer—which is pretty hard to see—but a smaller shape (stargazers call it an asterism) called the “Teapot” (shown above, right of center). Look south.

5. A parade of planets

When: July 17, 2022

Where: southern night sky

Stay up really late or more likely get up before sunrise and in the southern sky you’ll see the bright planets Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn line-up. An 82%-lit waning gibbous Moon will be between Saturn and Jupiter.

6. Southern Delta-Aquarid Meteor Shower

When: July 30, 2022

Where: all-sky

Just before midnight tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow is the peak of the Southern Delta-Aquarid meteor shower in dark moonless skies (the waxing crescent Moon will be barely 3%-lit and will set just after the Sun). So keep your eyes peeled (no binoculars or telescope necessary) for its 20 or so “shooting stars” per hour. A dark sky will help you locate them, though the farther south you are the more meteors you’re likely to see.

7. Perseid meteor shower

When: August 13, 2022

Where: all sky

Typically a highlight of the annual stargazing calendar, strong moonlight will ruin this year’s Perseid meteor shower, with its 100 or so “shooting stars” per hour likely to be very tricky to see thanks to a just-past-full Moon—though if you’re out stargazing just before midnight tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow morning then you may see some particularly bright bolides.

8. Night-shining clouds

When: twilight during June and July

Where: northern sky

At their best in northern twilight skies during June and July (at latitudes between 50° and 70° north and south of the equator), noctilucent or “night shining” clouds are very delicate high altitude clouds of icy dust that form about 50 miles/80 kilometres up. Because the Sun is never too far below the horizon at these latitudes they get subtly lit up for a short time. They’re best seen with the naked eye or a pair of binoculars.

9. A crescent Moon and the planets

When: July 24, 2022

Where: eastern night sky

A 16%-lit waning crescent Moon will this morning, before sunrise, be visible between

10. ‘Super Buck Moon,’ ‘Sturgeon Moon’ and ‘Harvest Moon’

When: July 13, August 12 and September 10, 2022

Where: rising in the east at dusk

Check the exact times of moonrise and moonset for your location and get somewhere high-up with a good, clear view of the eastern horizon. You reward—just after sunset—on July 13 will be the rise of one of the biggest-looking full Moons of the year, though August’s “Sturgeon Moon” and September’s famous “Harvest Moon” will look just as orangey-awesome during their moonrise moment.

Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.


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