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 until further notice.
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
Celestial Events for August 2021
- August 2 – Saturn at Opposition. The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons. A medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings and a few of its brightest moons.
- August 8 – New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
- August 12, 13 – Perseids Meteor Shower. The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors. The shower runs annually from July 17 to August 24. It peaks this year on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. The waxing 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. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
- August 19 – Jupiter at Opposition. The giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. This is the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons. A medium-sized telescope should be able to show you some of the details in Jupiter’s cloud bands. A good pair of binoculars should allow you to see Jupiter’s four largest moons, appearing as bright dots on either side of the planet.
- August 22 – Full Moon, Blue Moon. 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 12:02 UTC (5:02 AM PT). This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Sturgeon Moon because the large sturgeon fish of the Great Lakes and other major lakes were more easily caught at this time of year. This moon has also been known as the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon. Since this is the third of four full moons in this season, it is known as a blue moon. This rare calendar event only happens once every few years, giving rise to the term, “once in a blue moon.” There are normally only three full moons in each season of the year. But since full moons occur every 29.53 days, occasionally a season will contain 4 full moons. The extra full moon of the season is known as a blue moon. Blue moons occur on average once every 2.7 years.
Celestial Events for September 2021
- September 7 – New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 00:52 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.
- September 14 – Neptune at Opposition. The blue giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. This is the best time to view and photograph Neptune. Due to its extreme distance from Earth, it will only appear as a tiny blue dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
- September 14 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation. The planet Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation of 26.8 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.
- September 20 – Full Moon. 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 23:54 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Corn Moon because the corn is harvested around this time of year. This moon is also known as the Harvest Moon. The Harvest Moon is the full moon that occurs closest to the September equinox each year.
- September 22 – September Equinox. The September equinox occurs at 19:11 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere.
For more information on any of these events, visit the Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events at Sea and Sky and 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.
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°
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.
- Cancelled 2020-201 until further notice (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.
- Cancelled 2020-201 until further notice.
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.)
Wednesday, September 22, 2021
Tuesday, December 21, 2021
Tuesday, April 5, 2022
Tuesday, May 3, 2022
Tuesday, June 7, 2022
Tuesday, July 5, 2022
Tuesday, August 2, 2022
Tuesday, September 6, 2022
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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