Stargazing is simply observing the night sky. It’s an enjoyable hobby enjoyed by many outdoor enthusiasts and amateur astronomers. Stargazing is an activity that can be done any time of the year, alone, with friends, or at a group “star party”. Regardless of your experience level, 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 attending star parties, what to bring, plus some do’s and don’ts.
You’ll also find 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….
Stargazing events in 2020
We regularly publishing stargazing events for the Puget Sound region when observatories and clubs host stargazing events. Unfortunately, all stargazing events have been cancelled during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, you may wish to continue your interest in astronomy. Here’s what’s coming up:
Celestial Events for August 2020
- August 3 – Full Moon 15:59 UTC (8:59 AM PT). This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Sturgeon Moon because large sturgeon fish were more easily caught at this time of year. This moon has also been known as the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon.
- August 11, 12 – Perseids Meteor Shower. 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 the 11th and morning of the 12th. The second quarter moon will block out some of the fainter meteors this year, but the Perseids are so bright and numerous that it should still be a good show. The Perseids are produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can appear anywhere in the sky. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
- August 13 – Venus at Greatest Western Elongation. The planet Venus reaches greatest western elongation of 45.8 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Venus since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the bright planet in the eastern sky before sunrise.
- August 19 – New Moon 02:42 UTC (Aug 18 7:42 pm PT). The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. However, 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.
To find more stargazing events, visit: https://nightsky.jpl.nasa.gov/clubs-and-events.cfm.
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.
NSN Webinar: Solar Orbiter ESA/NASA mission
Solar Orbiter, a space mission of international collaboration between ESA (European Space Agency) and NASA, is the latest mission to study the Sun. The mission will address a central question of heliophysics: How does the sun create and control the giant bubble of magnetic fields around it, the heliosphere? Join the Night Sky Network on Thursday, July 23, 2020 at 6:00pm Pacific Time (9:00pm Eastern) to hear Teresa Nieves-Chinchilla from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, as she shares with us the latest updates from the joint ESA/NASA Solar Orbiter mission. More info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ej4K9Q5mCaU and https://www.youtube.com/user/NightSkyNetwork/
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.
See the list below for the Upcoming Astronomy and Stargazing Events, or visit: http://www.tas-online.org/public_nights.php
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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, August 12, 2020
Thursday, August 13, 2020
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Tuesday, December 1, 2020