Keep Watching the Skies

You don’t need to have a university degree in astrophysics to help uncover the secrets of the universe. Study the skies. Don’t wait around, get out there and stargaze! But if you want to wait for the right moment there are amazing astrological events happening all year round. From meteor showers to planets being at their most prominent see Northumberland’s clear skies at their absolute best.

For more information visit the Dark Sky Discovery website.

Timing is everything...

Find out what you can see in Northumberland's dark skies during the year with our month by month guide.

January 3-4 – Quadrantids Meteor Shower

Why not welcome the New Year with a night of stargazing and meteor hunting? The Quadrantids meteor shower can yield as many as 40 meteors per hour, radiating from the constellation Bootes.

March 8 – Jupiter at Opposition

All eyes turn toward Jupiter as it basks in full sunlight during its opposition. Jupiter is sure to delight all who view it, from professional observatories to amateurs with handheld binoculars. Make sure to check out its four Galilean moons and see if you can make out the cloud bands or the Great Red Spot.

May 6-7 – Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower

Bright Moon phases will obscure many of this year’s best meteor showers, but a new Moon on the night of May 6 ensures dark skies for the Eta Aquarids, which is composed of the remnants of the famous Comet Halley. Meteors—up to 30 per hour will appear to radiate from Aquarius.

May 9 – Transit of Mercury

This will be the highlight of the year for many amateur astronomers. The elusive Mercury, one of the most difficult planets to view, will be out in broad daylight. Look through a telescope equipped with a suitable solar filter and you’ll be able to view tiny Mercury transit across the surface of the Sun.

May 22 – Mars at Opposition

The second smallest planet in the Solar System can be difficult to observe in detail through a telescope. Your best opportunity will come on May 22, when Mars and Earth reach their closest points to one another. Try viewing Mars in a large telescope to see if you can spot its polar ice caps or any of the darker regions on the rusty-red surface.

June 3 – Saturn at Opposition

Tonight the ringed planet truly takes centre stage. At opposition, Saturn will be bright and fully illuminated by the Sun. You may even notice that its rings look brighter than usual thanks to a phenomenon known as the Seeliger Effect. Saturn’s rings will be visible in even small aperture telescopes.

August 16 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation

Following its transit across the Sun in May, this is your next best opportunity to observe Mercury. On this day, it reaches maximum distance away from the Sun. Look to the western horizon just after sunset and you can catch a glimpse of the tiny planet.

August 27 – Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter

It doesn’t get much closer than this! The two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will appear to have an ultra-close encounter in the evening sky, coming within 0.06 degrees of one another. This amazing event will occur just after sunset in the western sky.

September 3 – Neptune at Opposition

Viewing the blue giant Neptune can be difficult, so if this planet’s been on your wish list, make tonight the night you finally observe it. Even though it’s closer on this night than any other night of the year, the planet is still approximately 2.7 billion miles away, so it will appear as a tiny blue dot in most telescopes.

October 15 – Uranus at Opposition

Uranus reaches prime viewing position when it enters opposition and becomes fully illuminated by the Sun. This cold, distant planet is so far away that its ring and surface detail cannot be observed through a telescope. However, you will be able to appreciate its unique blue-green color in the eyepiece or with a planetary camera.

December 21 – Winter Solstice (Northern Hemisphere)

As temperatures drop in the Northern Hemisphere, days grow shorter and shorter. On December 21, get out there and enjoy an extra-long observing session; it’s the shortest day and longest night of the year!