By Kristen Pope
Warm summer nights are the perfect time to lay back and explore the wonders of the night sky. And why not get started THIS summer, as 2014 is set to be a stellar skygazing year!
Pick a clear night for your skygazing excursion – if it's cloudy or raining, you won't be able to see much. Also, a new moon is ideal for stargazing – when the moon is full, its light makes it difficult to see some stars. Pack warm blankets, comfy chairs, snacks, protection against mosquitoes, and binoculars or a telescope.
Here are a few not-to-miss heavenly displays on tap for summer:
June 7: Mars and Moon Conjuncture. Take a peek soon after sunset to see Mars offset only a few Degrees from the moon.
July 28-29: Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower. With only a thin crescent moon keeping the night sky dark, this year's Delta Aquarids will be spectacular! The shower runs from July 12th through August 23rd, but peaks July 28th and 29th, when up to twenty comets per hour are possible. The comets will appear to be coming from the Aquarius constellation, so grab your star map.
August 10th: Supermoon. This full moon will come closer to Earth than any other full moon in 2014. However, it won't appear to be much larger than normal – take a peek or set up your telescope and see if you can tell the difference.
August 12-13: Perseid Meteor Shower. This annual favorite peaks overnight on August 12th and 13th, with up to 60 comets per hour. But the shower itself runs from July 17th through August 24th. Unfortunately, moonlight may interfere with peak viewing this year, so keep your eyes peeled through the duration of the event.
August 18: Jupiter and Venus Conjecture. Look into the sky before sunrise to see Jupiter and Venus very close to each other, less than a quarter Degree apart. Before sunrise is the best time for viewing.
For even more skywatching spectacles, check out Sea and Sky's astronomy calendar.
LOCAL STARGAZING EVENTS:
This summer, join local nonprofit, Wyoming Stargazing, for their free, public events. These events are held on clear nights only; rain or thick cloud cover will cancel.
Wednesdays: On clear Wednesday nights, head to the Stilson Parking Lot (at the junction of Highway 22 and the Moose-Wilson Road) half an hour after sunset. Wyoming Stargazing will set up telescopes at the far northern end of the parking lot, behind the bus stop (the side closest to Teton Village). The event lasts for approximately three hours. They will also have iPads with the Star Walk application to explore the skies while waiting your turn on the telescopes.
Tuesdays: On clear Tuesday nights, beginning June 10th, head up to the Colter Bay Visitor Center in Grand Teton National Park. Telescopes will be located at the shores of Colter Bay, close to the outdoor amphitheater. Programs begin approximately an hour after sunset and continue until midnight.
A grant from the Wyoming NASA Space Grant Consortium helped fund these free, local events. For more information, visit WyomingStargazing.org.