Local Lifestyle

Morgan County Observatory shares Guide to Summer Sky Happenings

by Kate Evans

The Morgan County Observatory first opened in December 2001 and provided night sky viewing of the planets, constellations and celestial phenomenon for many years until it closed in early 2019.  The observatory reopened in September 2022 with a new board of directors.

Kathryn Krenn, Morgan County Observatory Foundation Board of Directors vice president-strategy and records, submitted the following list of sky happenings for readers to enjoy this summer.

Good viewing possibilities include planet sightings, meteor showers, the Milky Way and  August’s Blue Moon.

A free public star gazing event at the Morgan County Observatory is scheduled for Saturday, May 27 from 8:30 p.m.-10:30 p.m.

Stay tuned for an upcoming feature article on what’s new at the Morgan County Observatory in the May 31 Morgan Messenger Outdoor Morgan County special edition.

Sky Happenings for May – August 2023

May: The hour before dawn is a fine time to view the ringed planet, when Saturn stands at more than 20° elevation in the southeastern sky. The rings are tilted by 8° to our line of sight, presenting a beautiful view.

May: Our solar system’s brightest planet, Venus, will shine brightly in the western evening sky all month. It lies above the star reddish Aldebaran   and the delicate Pleiades star cluster.

May 13-20: Good viewing of the Milky Way

May 22-24: Following sunset, the Moon, Venus, and Mars form a close grouping in the west. The Moon sits between the two planets on the 23rd. Venus will be in its crescent phase.

June 10-24: Good Viewing of the Milky Way

June 21: The June Solstice is the 1st day of summer. At 9 PM at a comfortable 24° high, the crescent Moon closely meets Venus and Mars.

July 9,10, and 11: Orange Mars closely meets the blue star Regulus, with dazzling Venus just below them. Binoculars will bring out the lovely color contrast and may also reveal Venus’ crescent shape if the instrument is held steady by bracing one’s elbows.

July 15-22: Good viewing for the Milky Way

July 29, 30: Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower.  The Delta Aquarids is an average shower that can produce up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht. The shower runs annually from July 12 to August 23. It peaks this year on the night of July 29 and morning of July 30. The nearly full moon will block most of the fainter meteors this year. But if you are patient, you may still be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.

August 12, 13: Perseids Meteor Shower. The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by comet Swift-Tuttle, which was discovered in 1862. The shower runs annually from July 17 to August 24. It peaks this year on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.

August 27: Saturn at Opposition. The ringed planet will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. This is the best time to view and photograph Saturn and its moons. A medium-sized or larger telescope will allow you to see Saturn’s rings and a few of its brightest moons.

August 31: Full Moon, Supermoon, Blue Moon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. The Moon will be near its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual. Since this is the second full moon in the same month, it is sometimes referred to as a blue moon.