July Is the Best Time to See Saturn and Its Rings This Year

NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute
NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute

Saturn is the second-biggest planet in our solar system, boasting 95 times the mass of Earth. Even though it's located hundreds of millions of miles away, Saturn is still clearly visible in the night sky during certain times of the year. As EarthSky reports, July is the best month to spot the gas giant, and if you're using a telescope, you may even see its rings and its largest moon.

On July 9, 2019, Saturn entered something called opposition with Earth. This occurs when our planet falls directly in line between Saturn and the Sun. When it's in opposition, Saturn is at its closest point to Earth in its orbit (about 746 million miles away). Due to its position in relation to our planet and the Sun, Saturn also appears especially clear and bright.

Just because opposition has passed doesn't mean your chance to spot Saturn from your backyard is over. The planet may no longer be at peak visibility, but during the weeks and even months surrounding opposition, Saturn will still be close to Earth and easily observable with the naked eye. Without any special tools, Saturn will appear as a bright golden star. If you're using a telescope, look for the planet's iconic rings. Titan, the largest of its 62 moons, may also be visible through a telescope.

To catch a prime view of Saturn, look up on a clear night any time from now through September 2019. At sunset, look above the southeastern sky for white-yellow star. Saturn will appear in the southern part of the sky in the middle of the night and disappear over the northwest horizon at sunrise. Saturn's opposition comes just one month after Jupiter's, which means the solar system's largest planet also looks particularly big and bright this time of year.

[h/t EarthSky]

The Wolf Moon, 2020’s First Full Moon, Coincides With a Lunar Eclipse

kirstypargeter/iStock via Getty Images
kirstypargeter/iStock via Getty Images

The first full moon—known as the wolf moon, since wolves supposedly howl more during the winter when food is scarce—is going to be a little extra special this year.

What is the wolf moon eclipse?

According to Newsweek, 2020’s wolf moon coincides with a penumbral lunar eclipse, which occurs when the moon enters Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra. Because the penumbra is a wider, lighter shadow than the umbra, which is in Earth’s direct wake, this isn’t the most striking type of eclipse. During its peak, the moon will simply appear a little less bright. To see the characteristic reddish-orange “blood moon” of a total lunar eclipse, when the moon does pass into the Earth’s umbra, we’ll have to wait until May 26, 2021.

Where to See the Wolf Moon Eclipse

Since this Friday’s eclipse happens during the day in North and South America, most people in the U.S. won’t be able to catch the show. If you live in Europe, Asia, Africa, or Australia, however, you can see the moon in all its glorious dimness when the sun sets on Friday, January 10. Forbes reports that the eclipse will begin at 12:07 p.m. EST (5:07 p.m. UTC) and reach maximum eclipse at 2:10 p.m. EST (7:10 p.m. UTC).

If you do live in North or South America, it’s still worth a skyward glance when night falls on January 10—even a regular full moon is pretty spectacular. You’ll get a chance to see a penumbral lunar eclipse for yourself on July 5.

[h/t Newsweek]

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower Is Coming in 2020—Here’s How to See It

Kurguzova/iStock via Getty Images
Kurguzova/iStock via Getty Images

If your New Year’s resolution is to spend more time appreciating the wonders of space, you won’t have to wait very long to put your plans into action: 2020’s first meteor shower is coming between January 3 and January 4.

According to Inverse, the Quadrantid meteor shower consists of fireball meteors, which shine brighter and bolder than other meteors because they’re made from larger particles of matter. And since the moon won’t be visible during the Quadrantids's peak, the already-bright meteors won’t have to compete with moonlight.

They will, however, have to compete with your habit of being soundly asleep in the middle of the night. The International Meteor Organization predicts that the shower’s peak will occur around 3 a.m. EST on January 4, and only last for about four hours [PDF]. It will take place in the northern part of the sky, so your chances of seeing the shower are better if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.

The meteor shower was named the Quadrantids because its radiant point—or the location in the sky from which the meteors seem to originate—was in a now-obsolete constellation called the Quadrans Muralis, identified in 1795 by French astronomer Jérôme Lalande and then omitted from the International Astronomical Union’s list of constellations in 1922.

Luckily, there are a couple other recognizable landmarks, so to speak, to help you figure out where to direct your gaze come next Friday night. According to EarthSky, the Quadrantids’s updated radiant point is near Arcturus, the brightest star of the Bootes constellation, and it’s also not far from the Big Dipper.

In 2003, astronomer Peter Jenniskens suggested that the Quadrantids’s parent body was the asteroid 2003 EH1, rather than an icy comet like many other meteor showers. Though we don’t know if that’s true, we are pretty sure about one thing: The chance to ring in the new year with a fireball sighting is worth losing a little sleep over.

[h/t Inverse]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER