Stargazing is simply observing the night sky. It’s an enjoyable hobby enjoyed by many outdoor enthusiasts and amateur astronomers. It’s an activity that can be done any time of the year, alone, with friends, or at a group “star party”. You can also pursue an interest in astronomy from your backyard or neighborhood park. We provide a list of important celestial events each month.
You can also join a public “star party”. This is a fun way to learn and see things for the first time or for the thousandth time. At a star party, you not only share great views of the sky, you have the opportunity to make new friends and learn more about astronomy.
Below we list some information about star parties throughout the Puget Sound region. Most are outdoors, but some have contingency plans for an indoor presentation. You know, just in case it’s cloudy or raining…. We also provide information about attending star parties, what to bring, plus some do’s and don’ts.
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Selected Celestial Event Highlights for 2023
Meteor Shower Viewing Tips
To view meteor showers, find an area well away from city lights and streetlights and an area with as large a view of the sky as possible. Dress for the weather! Lie flat on your back (on a lounge chair or blanket is recommended) with your feet facing south. Look up, taking in as much of the sky as possible. After about 30 minutes in the dark, your eyes will adapt, and you will begin to see meteors—be patient. The show should last until dawn, so you have plenty of opportunity to catch a glimpse.
While the meteor showers are named for a specific constellation, it is not the source of the meteors. They are visible throughout the night sky.
January 3-4, 2023: Quadrantids Meteor Shower runs annually from January 1-5 and peaks this year on the night of January 3, 2023 to the morning of the 4th. The Quadrantids is an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at its peak, produced by dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. This year the nearly full moon will block out most of the fainter meteors. But if you are patient you may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
April 22-23, 2023: Lyrids Meteor Shower. The Lyrids shower runs annually from April 16-25, produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861. It is an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. However, these meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The Lyrids peak this year on the night of the night of April 22, 2023 and morning of the 23rd. The thin crescent moon will set early in the evening leaving dark skies for what should be an excellent show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
May 6-7, 2023: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarids is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has been observed since ancient times. It runs annually from April 19 to May 28 and peaks this year on the night of May 6, 2023 and the morning of the 7th. In the Northern Hemisphere, Eta Aquarids is an average show reaching about 30 meteors per hour. The nearly full moon will block out all but the brightest meteors. If you are patient, you should still should be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
For more information on these events, visit the Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events at Sea and Sky and Skywatching tips from NASA. To find still more stargazing info, visit: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/clubs-and-events.cfm and Planet Alignment In 2022 | Star Walk, SpaceX Starlink Satellites Tracker (findstarlink.com).
Free stargazing events in Seattle-Tacoma
The following groups and organizations regularly hold free public stargazing events throughout the region. In 2020,we’ve added virtual events.
Stargazing with Seattle Astronomical Society in public parks around King County
Seattle Astronomical Society (SAS) organizes monthly star parties in area parks. These outdoor stargazing events are free, family-friendly, and open to the public. A typical star party gathering features observing through two or more different types of telescopes provided by SAS members, along with the opportunity to ask questions, discuss the observation process, and learn about astronomical topics. Weather cancels the event; last minute updates are available on their website.
To enhance your experience, you may want to download and print your own copy of the current Evening Sky Map at http://www.skymaps.com/downloads.html. This 2-page guide contains a detailed sky map, the current monthly sky calendar, and a descriptive list of the best objects to see with binoculars, a telescope, or using just your eyes. It is suitable for all stargazers including newcomers to astronomy. And, unlike other star charts on the Web, The Evening Sky Map will print clearly on any printer.
See the list below for the Upcoming Astronomy and Stargazing Events, or visit: http://www.seattleastro.org/news_and_events/star_parties
Stargazing at UW Seattle Theodor Jacobsen Observatory
A dedicated group of SAS volunteers offer twice-monthly programs April through October at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory (TJO) on the University of Washington Seattle campus. The program includes a short presentation by SAS members and/or UW undergrads, history of the observatory and its beautiful telescope (over 100 years old), and if the weather permits, the dome is opened for views through the telescope.
- Expected to open in April 2022. Watch for reservations to open late March.
See the list below for the Upcoming Astronomy and Stargazing Events, or visit: http://depts.washington.edu/astron/outreach/jacobsen-observatory/#a2
Stargazing in Tacoma
Tacoma Astronomical Society (TAS) hosts free public viewing sessions each month at Pierce College near Fort Steilacoom in Lakewood (about 10 miles south of Tacoma). There is no charge for stargazing and observing the night sky through TAS telescopes. However, donations are gladly accepted. The donations are used to further public education and outreach programs.
- On nights with clear skies TAS volunteers provide telescopic observations of the Moon, planets, star clusters, nebulae, galaxies, double stars and more. Each season boasts something new and exciting for frequent guests.
- On cloudy nights, indoor lectures, demonstrations and workshops will be available at public events regardless of the weather.
- Cancelled 2020-201 until further notice.
What to bring to an outdoor stargazing event or “star party”
If you have a telescope or binoculars you want to share, bring it along.
If you don’t have any stargazing equipment, group star parties typically have several different telescopes or binoculars brought by people attending who are happy to share. If you are thinking about getting a telescope, it can be a great opportunity to try and compare equipment and ask questions about cost and features.
Even in summer, it can get chilly at night and you will be standing most of the time. So, dress in layers warmer than you think you might need and wear comfortable shoes. Bring a thermos with something warm to drink (such as coffee, tea, or hot cider), plus a snack if you think you might need some extra energy.
Bring a red flashlight. Red light has almost no effect on our night vision. If you don’t have a red flashlight, put red cellophane over a white lens with a rubber band, or paint the lens in red nail polish, or cut a circular piece out of a red plastic report binder and place it under the lens.
Star Party do’s and don’ts
Arrive before dark to orient and introduce yourself. Check the weather report and plan to arrive no later than sunset, or up to 30 minutes prior.
If you come to a star party without a telescope, leave the parking spots closest to the observing site for those with heavy equipment to carry.
After dark, be especially careful around the telescopes: don’t move or turnaround quickly. There are cables connecting equipment that are easy to trip over in the dark. And remember to not use any white light, only red light (see “what to bring” above).
Do not use white flashlights anytime during a star party. It takes 20 to 30 minutes for your eyes to get dark-adapted and only a second or two of white light to make you start over again.
Do not touch the glass eyepiece of a telescope or binoculars.
Do not talk loud or be rowdy. Star-gazing is a quiet, peaceful activity.
Do not litter…pack it in, pack it out!
Do ask questions of other more experienced attendees. Stargazers love to talk about their hobby and are usually happy to answer questions.
Other recent and exciting stargazing events
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite “chain of lights”
In 2019, SpaceX launched 60 Starlink satellites into orbit. The satellites are the first of a planned 12,000-satellite megaconstellation to provide internet access to people on Earth. Satellite observers are giddy with excitement. The satellites orbit at approximately 273 miles above the Earth. As they move across the night sky, they put on a spectacular show for ground observers. To the eye, the 60 satellites appear as a “moving train” of moderately faint stars usually visible to the naked eye under a dark, clear sky. Initially, the satellites were stretched out in a straight line. However, as the satellites revolve around Earth at 90-minute intervals, they should appear less “bunched” together and may get fainter as they are slowly raised to their operational orbits of 342 miles.
If you would like to try and see the Starlink satellites, you will need to consult an online satellite tracker, such as: SpaceX Starlink Satellites Tracker (findstarlink.com). Note: the horizon is 0°, the width of your fist is bout 10°, and the highest point directly overhead is 90° (so 10°-30° and above 50°-60° is high in the sky). We occasionally check findstarlink.com and post upcoming sightings in our monthly list above.
Launch of NASA’s Lucy mission to Jupiter asteroids Oct 13-16, 2021
NASA sent a spacecraft to explore the Jupiter Trojan asteroids on a United Launch Alliance (ULA) Atlas V 401 rocket from Space Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Space Force Station in Florida. These primitive bodies hold vital clues to deciphering the history of the solar system. More info: Lucy: The First Mission to Jupiter’s Trojans | NASA and NASA’s #LucyMission Virtual NASA Social | Facebook
- For those interested in learning more about the Lucy mission, find activities that can be done at home as well as videos, animations, stories, and articles on the Lucy Mission Resources – NASA Solar System Exploration
Upcoming Astronomy and Stargazing Events
(If nothing is listed below, there are no upcoming astronomy or stargazing events in our calendar. We update the calendar throughout the year.)
Tuesday, April 4, 2023
Saturday, April 22, 2023
Tuesday, May 2, 2023
Saturday, May 6, 2023
Tuesday, June 6, 2023
Tuesday, July 4, 2023
Tuesday, August 1, 2023
Tuesday, September 5, 2023
But wait, there’s more!
- Planetarium shows in the Puget Sound region
- STEM for kids at home with Rosie Research
- Free local livestream, virtual tours, and online classes
- More free and cheap things to do every day: Greater Seattle on the Cheap event calendar.
- Still more ideas for frugal fun: Greater Seattle on the Cheap home page.
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