We regularly publishing stargazing events for the Puget Sound region when observatories and clubs host stargazing events. Unfortunately, all in-person stargazing events have been cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, should you wish to continue your interest in astronomy, below we’re listing virtual events as well as some of the major celestial events coming up soon.
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”.
A star party is a great time 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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Stargazing events in 2021
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite “chain of lights”
Two years ago, 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. But they already have satellite observers giddy with excitement as they move across the sky.
Now the satellites are orbiting 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). Some upcoming visibility dates and times for Seattle are listed below; actual times can vary by 10 min–so plan to start early and stay later. Even when the satellites pass over your location, many things can affect your ability to see them: city lights, cloud cover, hills on the horizon, etc. Good luck!
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).
- 4:38 am, 7 May 2021 for 5 mins. Look from SOUTHWEST to NORTHEAST. Elevation (from horizon): 17°-79°. This may not be visible, based on recent user reports.
- 9:18 pm, 7 May 2021 for 5 mins. Look from SOUTHWEST to EAST. Elevation: 10°-37°.
- 10:19 pm, 7 May 2021 for 5 mins. Look from NORTHWEST to SOUTHEAST. Elevation: start: 10°-81°. This may not be visible, based on recent user reports.
- 3:31 am, 8 May 2021 for 2 mins. Look from SOUTHEAST to EAST. Elevation: 30°. This may not be visible, based on recent user reports.
- 9:32 pm, 8 May 2021 for 5 mins. Look from SOUTHWEST to NORTHEAST. Elevation: start: 10°-86°.
- 3:56 am, 9 May 2021 for 3 mins. Look from SOUTHWEST to NORTHEAST. Elevation: 40°-85°. This may not be visible, based on recent user reports.
- 9:35 pm, 9 May 2021 for 5 mins. Look from NORTHWEST to SOUTHEAST. Elevation: 10°-77°. This may not be visible, based on recent user report.
- 9:49 pm, 9 May 2021 for 5 mins. Look from WEST to NORTHEAST. Elevation): 11°-46°.
- 4:21 am, 10 May 2021 for 5 mins. Look from WEST to NORTHEAST. Elevation: 14°-44°
Celestial Events for May 2021
- May 4-7 – Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarids is an above average shower, capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. Most of the activity is seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rate can reach about 30 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has been observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. It peaks in 2021 on the early morning of May 4-6. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight until dawn. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky. The second quarter moon will block out some of the faintest meteors this year. But if you are patient, you should still should be able to catch quite a few good ones.
- May 17 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation. The planet Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation of 22 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.
- May 26 – Full Moon, Supermoon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 11:14 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. This moon has also been known as the Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon. This is also the second of three supermoons for 2021. The Moon will be near its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.
- May 26 – Total Lunar Eclipse. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes completely through the Earth’s dark shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The eclipse will be visible throughout the Pacific Ocean and parts of eastern Asia, Japan, Australia, and western North America. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
For more information on any of these events, visit the Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events at Sea and Sky, National Geographic: 10 spectacular stargazing events to watch in 2021, and Skywatching tips from NASA.
To find more stargazing events, visit: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/clubs-and-events.cfm.
Free telescope livestream via South Carolina
Weather permitting, the Midlands Astronomy Club in Columbia, SC will offer a free telescope live stream every month, open to non-members via Facebook Live. More info: https://www.facebook.com/MidlandsAstronomyClub/events/. Upcoming dates:
- SAT, JAN 23 AT 4 PM PT
- SAT, FEB 20 AT 4 PM PT
- SAT, MAR 20 AT 4 PM PT
- SAT, APR 24 AT 4 PM PT
- SAT, MAY 15 AT 5 PM PT
- SAT, JUN 19 AT 5 PM PT
What to bring to an outdoor stargazing event
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.
Stargazing 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.
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 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.
- 2020 update: open houses at the Theodor Jacobsen Observatory are suspended until all classes are being held in their regular classrooms and undergraduate volunteers are back on campus
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.
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.)
Saturday, May 15, 2021
Sunday, May 16, 2021
Saturday, May 22, 2021
Sunday, May 23, 2021
Thursday, May 27, 2021
Saturday, May 29, 2021
Sunday, May 30, 2021
Friday, June 4, 2021
Saturday, June 5, 2021
Sunday, June 6, 2021
Saturday, June 12, 2021
Sunday, June 13, 2021
Saturday, June 19, 2021
Sunday, June 20, 2021
Saturday, June 26, 2021
Sunday, June 27, 2021
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Tuesday, August 3, 2021
Tuesday, September 7, 2021
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Tuesday, October 5, 2021
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
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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