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Astronomy in Summer 2017

Watching for events in the sky is always fun, especially when an event is rare and won’t occur again for another hundred years or the sky makes you feel like you’re in a science fiction movie. Being able to see other planets and celestial objects through telescopes has allowed our generation to understand what’s happening outside of Earth better than any generation before. To explore astronomy and stargazing, watching eclipses, comets, and planetary events can help you understand your surroundings and appreciate the complexity of outer space.

On May 17th, Mercury will be at its greatest western elongation. Though it sounds complicated, planetary elongation is when an inner planet reaches its greatest distance from the sun as viewed from Earth, making it visible to the naked eye. Mercury will be visible just before sunrise on this morning, so watch for it on your way to school. Venus will be at its greatest western elongation on June 3rd, so even though school will be finishing up, you can still watch for our planetary neighbor in the sky!

On June 9th, the moon will appear smaller than usual, causing a micro moon. A micro moon occurs when it reaches its apogee, which is the moon’s farthest point from Earth. On top of this, the moon will turn into what most Americans call a Strawberry Moon (or called a Rose Moon in Europe, since strawberries didn’t exist in Europe when it was discovered). The moon usually turns a slight pink or a dark yellow color. It doesn’t always turn pink, This is caused by a partial solar eclipse, similar to the total solar eclipse that causes a blood moon. The moon enters the Earth’s shadow called the penumbra, causing it to reflect light differently. You can watch for this event before sunrise this June.

Saturn will be at opposition on June 15th. Opposition is when a planet aligns directly with the Earth and the Sun with Earth in the center, making them visible directly opposite from one another. It will be easy to spot, since it will be in the center of constellation Ophiuchus. Its rings will be angled to be maximally visible with a telescope.

On July 28th and 29th, the Delta Aquarids meteor shower will be visible. These meteors are easily visible, and are the perfect way to prepare for watching the Perseids meteor shower, which is much more popular, since they are the easiest to see without a telescope. No matter which meteor shower you watch for, you should be able to see the bright meteors easily.

Summertime is the perfect season for stargazing, so make sure you get outside to watch the sky to find an event you can enjoy for free no matter where you are.

Photo by NASA