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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Stargazing events in 2021
Celestial Event Highlights for November 2021
November 4 – 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 21:15 UTC (2:15PM PT). 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.
November 4, 5 – Taurids Meteor Shower. The Taurids is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains left behind by Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10. It peaks this year on the the night of November 4. The new moon will leave dark skies this year for what should be an excellent show. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
November 17, 18 – Leonids Meteor Shower. The Leonids is an average shower, producing up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. That last of these occurred in 2001. The Leonids is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tempel-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1865. The shower runs annually from November 6-30. It peaks this year on the night of the 17th and morning of the 18th. Unfortunately the nearly full moon will dominate the sky this year, blocking all but the brightest meteors. But if you are patient, you should still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Leo, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
November 19 – 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 08:59 UTC (1:59AM PT). This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Beaver Moon because this was the time of year to set the beaver traps before the swamps and rivers froze. It has also been known as the Frosty Moon and the Dark Moon.
November 19 – Partial Lunar Eclipse. A partial lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth’s partial shadow, or penumbra, and only a portion of it passes through the darkest shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse a part of the Moon will darken as it moves through the Earth’s shadow. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of eastern Russia, Japan, the Pacific Ocean, North America, Mexico, Central America, and parts of western South America.
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.
Celestial Event Highlights for December 2021
December 13, 14 – Geminids Meteor Shower. The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17. It peaks this year on the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th. The waxing gibbous moon will block out most of the fainter meteors this year. But the Geminids are so numerous and bright that this could still be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
December 21 – December Solstice. The December solstice occurs at 15:50 UTC (7:50 AM PST). The South Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its southernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south latitude. This is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.
December 21, 22 – Ursids Meteor Shower. The Ursids is a minor meteor shower producing about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tuttle, which was first discovered in 1790. The shower runs annually from December 17-25. It peaks this year on the the night of the 21st and morning of the 22nd. The nearly full moon will be a problem this year, blocking all but the brightest meteors. But if you are patient enough, you may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor, but can appear anywhere in the sky.
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.
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.
Other recent and exciting stargazing events
Aurora Borealis (northern lights) Halloween weekend
The Aurora Borealis are expected to make a second appearance this fall in the Seattle-Tacoma metro area on Halloween weekend. Also known as the Northern Lights, they typically appear as waves of green across the northern sky. Yellow or purple colors are less common. Best viewing is experienced just after sunset or just before sunrise.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) a solar flare is expected to produce a geomagnetic storm Saturday-Sunday nights, October 30-31, 2021 that has the potential to make the Aurora Borealis visible in most of Washington state and into northern Oregon. You can check the status in real-time at https://www.swpc.noaa.gov/products/aurora-30-minute-forecast.
To catch this phenomenon, the basic advice is to find a place looking north that offers an unobstructed view with little surrounding light pollution – so away from central cities and suburban retail areas. Anytime after sunset until sunrise (5:55 PM to 7:50 AM). In the Puget sound region, you usually want to head to a beach or the Cascade Mountain foothills. But keep in mind that some higher elevations have seen some snow.
Listed below are some suggested parks and other vantage points where you might get a good view of the Northern Lights. But depending on where you live, your backyard, a neighborhood park, or the traffic circle down the street might be just as good–or better!
Suggested locations to see Northern Lights
We can’t vouch for these locations, but have seen them recommended by various sources or appear to be good vantage points on a map. Note that most city, county, and state parks close at dusk. Some offer camping with a reservations, but typically require advance purchase. So we didn’t include parks open dawn to dusk, which is most of them.
(arranged roughly north to south and west to east through the Puget Sound region)
- Bellingham Bay Boulevard Park (Hours: 6:00 a.m. to 10 p.m.)
- Washington Park in Anacortes (Hours: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.)
- Sunset Hill Park in Seattle north of Ballard (Hours: 4 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.)
- Magnusson Park in north Seattle (Hours: 4 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.)
- Discovery Park (Hours: 4 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.) from the West Point Lighthouse or North beach
- Fremont Peak Park in Seattle (Hours: 4 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.)
- Tolt-McDonald Park Carnation (Hours: unknown)
- Rockaway Beach on Bainbridge Island (Hours: unknown)
- Alki Beach in West Seattle (Hours: 4 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.)
- Jefferson Park in Seattle (Hours: 4 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.)
- Luther Burbank Park on Mercer Island (Hours: unknown)
- Westcrest Park in West Seattle (Hours: 6 a.m. – 10 p.m.)
- Snoqualmie Point Park (Hours: unknown)
- Point Defiance Park in Tacoma (Hours: Open ½ hour before sunrise, close ½ hour after sunset)
NASA is sending 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. Everyone is invited to experience the launch virtually. More info: NASA Invites Public to Virtually Join Lucy Launch | NASA
- NASA’s Lucy mission is scheduled to launch no earlier than 5:34 a.m. EDT (2:34 a.am PDT) Saturday, Oct. 16 Live launch coverage will begin at 5 a.m. EDT (2 a.m. PDT) on NASA Television, the NASA app, and the agency’s website. After launch, Lucy will take six years to travel to the Trojan asteroids, rocky worlds as old as our solar system that share an orbit with Jupiter around the Sun.
- NASA will also hold a prelaunch briefing Wednesday, Oct. 13, and science and engineering briefings Oct. 14. NASA is excited to present this opportunity for people of all ages from all around the world to participate. No registration is necessary.
SpaceX’s Starlink satellite “chain of lights” May 2021
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°
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.)
Monday, December 13, 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
Tuesday, October 4, 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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