The Best Celestial Events of 2015
From the Moon and planets to countless deep space objects, you can discover something new in the night sky just about every night of the year. But as the Earth makes its annual journey around the Sun, we get the opportunity to view special celestial events like meteor showers, conjunctions, and eclipses. Some last just a few hours while others can last several days or weeks—but once they’re here, time is of the essence! So mark your calendar, grab your telescope, and take a look at some of this year’s unforgettable events.
Celestial Events of 2015
August 12-13 – Perseids Meteor Shower
Meteor showers occur when the Earth passes through the remnants of a comet’s tail. The Perseids, one of the best meteor showers of the year, can produce up to 60 meteors per hour! This year, the Moon will be a thin crescent, keeping skies dark for peak meteor viewing. Head out to a dark sky site, look up, and enjoy the show!
September 1 – Neptune at Opposition
When a planet comes into opposition, it’s at its closest point to the Earth and fully illuminated by the Sun. Since Neptune is so far away, opposition is your best chance to view it. Remember, even in large telescopes, this distant world is resolved as a tiny blue dot.
September 4 – Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation
Although it’s much closer to the Earth than other planets, Mercury’s proximity to the Sun makes it the most difficult planet to observe. But on this day, Mercury reaches its farthest point from the Sun. The two objects will be separated by 27 degrees, creating perfect viewing conditions. Look to the western horizon after sunset and you’ll catch sight of this elusive planet!
September 13 – Partial Solar Eclipse (Southern Africa, Madagascar, and Antarctica)
Lucky observers in certain parts of the Southern Hemisphere will witness a partial solar eclipse. During this celestial event, the Moon appears to move in front of the Sun creating a “cookie bite” shape. Remember, always use a proper solar filter to view a solar eclipse.
September 28 – Blood Moon/Harvest Moon/Supermoon
Three lunar events converge on this one special night in September! The Moon will pass completely into the Earth’s shadow. As it does, it will get darker and darker on one side. Once it reaches totality, the Moon will take on a deep red color, which some refer to as the “Blood Moon.”
Lunar eclipses can only occur during the full moon phase. This particular full moon will happen when the Moon is slightly closer to Earth, making it appear a bit larger and brighter. This is known as the “Supermoon.” And finally, since this full moon occurs closest to the autumnal equinox, it’s called the “Harvest Moon.” This is a perfect celestial event to image, even with a basic telescope and your smartphone! Don’t miss it!
October 1-November 6 – Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina
Astronomers are hoping Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina will become visible to the naked eye in early October and continue to brighten through early November. Comet Catalina is making its first trip around the Sun since it was discovered in 2013. We recommend a wide field telescope or astronomical binoculars for viewing this new visitor from the Oort Cloud.
October 11 – Uranus at Opposition
Neptune reached opposition in September and Uranus follows suit in October. The seventh planet from the Sun will reach its closest distance to Earth, appearing slightly brighter than usual. Watch for a tiny blue-green dot in your telescope!
October 21-22 – Orionids Meteor Shower
The Orionids are a medium-intensity shower, but the show will be particularly good this year. After the Moon sets around midnight, look for as many as 20 meteors per hour radiating from the constellation Orion.
October 28 – Conjunction of Venus, Mars, and Jupiter
Here’s a celestial event worth waking up early for! Venus, Mars, and Jupiter will all come together in the early morning sky before sunrise. All three planets will come within one degree of each other, so the bright triangle will be unmistakable. It’s a rare opportunity to catch these three planets together in your telescope or binoculars’ field of view.
November 17-18 – Leonids Meteor Shower
If you missed the Orionids in October, the Leonids will put on a very similar show this year. Both meteor showers will reach peak visibility after midnight, when the Moon sets and skies darken. Head outside and watch for approximately 15 meteors per hour. They’ll be most concentrated near the constellation Leo.
December 7 – Conjunction of the Moon and Venus
Early risers will be rewarded with a beautiful sight in the eastern sky just before sunrise on December 7. Bright Venus, sometimes referred to as the “morning star,” will come within 2 degrees of a delicate crescent Moon.
December 13-14 – Geminids Meteor Shower
2015 goes out with a bang—the Geminids are the biggest and best meteor shower of the year, with the potential to produce up to 120 meteors per hour! Astronomers predict a great showing this year. The crescent Moon sets early leaving skies dark for prime meteor viewing. Brave the cold weather and head to a dark sky site to enjoy this multi-colored celestial light show!
December 22 – Winter Solstice (Northern Hemisphere)
The winter solstice is a fun day to be an amateur astronomer since it’s the shortest day of the year! Less daylight means more time for stargazing. The Sun should set between 4 and 5 p.m. throughout most of the United States and even earlier in Canada and northern Europe. Get out there and enjoy a few hours of stargazing—and still make it to bed early!