A star-gazers' guide to five celestial events you won't want to miss this year

Author
Adam Joyce
Date
25 May 2018
Faculty
Faculty of Science and Engineering

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Astronomy fans, save the dates - here are the top five celestial events you won't want to miss in the second half of this year, says Department of Physics and Astronomy Senior Scientific Officer, Adam Joyce.

Mars Opposition

July 27 

On this day, Mars will be closest to Earth for the first time since 2003, and won't get as close to us again until 2035.

This means we will get the best view of Mars for quite a while which will make it look like a bright red-orange star in the sky. While the planet will look spectacular to the naked eye, if you invest in a small-ish telescope you will be able to see various Martian surface features, such as its white polar caps and dark volcanic plains.

Lunar Eclipse

July 28 

Although there was already a Lunar Eclipse visible from Sydney on March 31, there will be another one in the early hours of July 18. (We hope the clouds will stay away this time).

The full eclipse will start at 5:30 am, and be at maximum at 6:21 am, which is about half an hour before sunrise. A good animation of the event can be found here: https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/australia/sydney

This eclipse will be much lower on the horizon so you will need to be in a large open space with a good view of the horizon to see it.

Asteroid Vesta potentially visible with the naked eye

June 20 

A few years ago, NASA orbited this asteroid with the Dawn spacecraft, one of the largest bodies in the asteroid belt. Dawn mapped the geology, composition, and cratering record of Vesta, along with the mass and gravity field. It may be visible for observation on this day, though like the lunar eclipse, it will be low on the horizon.

More information about the Dawn mission can be found here: https://dawn.jpl.nasa.gov/ - more information on finding Vesta is here: https://in-the-sky.org/news.php?id=20180620_14_100

Five planets visible in the early evening sky

October 10 - 20 

For about 10 days in mid-October, the early evening sky will show five planets - visible to the naked eye - strewn across a large distance. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn will be up in the sky visible to most just before sunset.

Neptune and Pluto will also be up, but not easily visible outside a large telescope and a very dark sky.

Geminids Meteor Shower

December 14 - 15

The Geminids are a relatively new phenomenon as opposed to other meteor showers, which means they are still improving in meteor rates decade on decade. The asteroid Phaethon is responsible for this shower, and if you find a nice dark sky, a lawn chair and look up at the sky for a few hours near the peak, you should get a great show.

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