Author's Note: The "Upstate New York Stargazing" series ran on the newyorkupstate.com and syracuse.com websites (and limited use in-print) from 2016 to 2018. For the full list of articles, see the Upstate New York Stargazing page.
Stargazing in Upstate NY: What to see in the night skies July 28 to Aug. 4
Updated: Jul. 28, 2017, 4:52 p.m. | Published: Jul. 28, 2017, 3:52 p.m.
By Damian Allis | Contributing writer
This summertime weekly summary for planetary, satellite, constellation, and other observing opportunities covers the last few days of July and first few days of August. Looming high over amateur astronomer plans and social media users alike is the Aug. 21 Solar Eclipse. A number of eclipse articles have already been posted on syracuse.com, including:
Below is a list of scheduled lecture and observing opportunities around Upstate New York for the eclipse – this list will be reproduced in the following articles and will hopefully be added to as other locations announce events. If you know of an event not listed, please send an email with details. As always around here, we can only hope for clear skies!
Solar Eclipse Calendar
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||1:22 – 3:56 PM||email, website|
|Cazenovia Public Library||Cazenovia||Solar Eclipse Lecture||Aug. 16||7:00 – 8:30 PM||315-655-9322 website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||11:30 AM – 4:00 PM||email, website|
|Liverpool Public Library||Liverpool||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||1:00 – 4:00 PM||315-457-0310 website|
|Marcellus Free Library||Marcellus||Solar Eclipse Party||Aug. 21||1:00 – 4:00 PM||315-673-3221 website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Eclipse Lecture, Clinton||Aug. 2||7:00 – 8:30 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Eclipse Lecture, Canastota||Aug. 3||7:00 – 8:30 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Solar Eclipse||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||email, website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||NOPL North Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Lecture||Aug. 14||6:30 – 8:00 PM||315-458-6184 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Jamesville||Lecture & Solar Eclipse @ DeWitt & Jamesville Library||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||315-446-3578 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ Hazard Branch||Aug. 21||12:00 – 4:00 PM||315-435-5326 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ Paine Branch||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:00 PM||315-435-5442 website|
|Onondaga County Libraries||Syracuse||Solar Eclipse Party @ White Branch||Aug. 21||2:00 – 3:00 PM||315-435-3519 website|
Lectures And Observing Opportunities In Upstate/Central New York
New York has a number of astronomers, astronomy clubs, and observatories that host public sessions throughout the year. Announced sessions from several respondent NY astronomy organizations are provided below for the remainder of July and all of August so you can plan accordingly. As wind and cloud cover are always factors when observing, please check the provided contact information and/or email the groups a day-or-so before an announced session, as some groups will also schedule weather-alternate dates. Also use the contact info for directions and to check on any applicable event or parking fees.
Astronomy Events Calendar
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Lecture and Public Observing||July 28||L – 7:00 p.m., O – 1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Public Observing||Aug. 4||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Public Observing||Aug. 18||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Adirondack Public Observatory||Tupper Lake||Public Observing||Aug. 21||1/2 Hour After Sunset||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Octagon Barn Star Party||July 28||8:00 – 10:00 PM||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Night Sky Adventure||Aug. 15||8:00 – 9:30 PM||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||AAAA Meeting||Aug. 17||7:30 – 9:00 PM||email, website|
|Albany Area Amateur Astronomers & Dudley Observatory||Schenectady||Octagon Barn Star Party||Aug. 18||8:00 – 10:00 PM||email, website|
|Astronomy Section, Rochester Academy of Science||Rochester||RocheSTAR Fest 2017||July 28 – 29||daytime & nighttime||email, website|
|Astronomy Section, Rochester Academy of Science||Rochester||Observing At The Strasenburgh||Aug. 5||8:30 – 10:30 PM||Jim S., 585-703-9876|
|Astronomy Section, Rochester Academy of Science||Rochester||Observing At The Strasenburgh||Aug. 12||8:30 – 10:30 PM||Jim S., 585-703-9876|
|Baltimore Woods||Marcellus||Bob Piekiel & Perseid Meteor Shower||Aug. 12/13||8:30 – 11:00 PM||email, website|
|Baltimore Woods||Marcellus||Bob Piekiel & Solar Observing||Aug. 26/27||1:00 – 3:00 PM||email, website|
|Clark Reservation State Park||Jamesville||Bob Piekiel & Summer Skies||July 28/29||8:00 – 11:00 PM||315-492-1590 website|
|Green Lakes State Park||Fayetteville||Bob Piekiel & Summer Skies||Aug. 18/19||8:00 – 10:00 PM||315-637-6111 website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||July 28||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||KAS Monthly Meeting||Aug. 2||7:00 – 9:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 4||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 11||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Perseid Meteor Shower||Aug. 12||8:00 PM – 12:30 AM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 18||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Kopernik Observatory & Science Center||Vestal||Friday Night Lecture & Observing||Aug. 25||8:00 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Meeting||Aug. 9||7:30 – 9:00 PM||email, website|
|Mohawk Valley Astronomical Society||Waterville||Public Stargazing @ Waterville Library||Aug. 26/27||8:30 – 11:30 PM||email, website|
ISS And Other Bright Satellites
Satellite flyovers are commonplace, with several bright passes easily visible per hour in the nighttime sky, yet a thrill to new observers of all ages. Few flyovers compare in brightness or interest to the International Space Station. The flyovers of the football field-sized craft with its massive solar panel arrays can be predicted to within several seconds and take several minutes to complete.
The ISS is out and about several times between 9:00 p.m. and midnight this week, with double flyovers before midnight from the 29th on. You may note that these flyovers are spaced by about 90 minutes – the time it takes for the ISS to go once around the Earth. Properly equipped members of the amateur radio community can even add audio to their visual experiences by listening to transmissions from the ISS – see ariss.org or issfanclub.com for details.
|Date||Brightness||Approx. Start||Start Direct.||Approx. End||End Direct.|
|28-Jul||moderately||12:56 AM||NW||12:57 AM||N/NW|
|28-Jul||moderately||10:26 PM||W/NW||10:31 PM||NE|
|29-Jul||moderately||12:03 AM||NW||12:06 AM||N/NE|
|29-Jul||moderately||9:33 PM||W/NW||9:39 PM||NE|
|29-Jul||moderately||11:11 PM||NW||11:15 PM||NE|
|30-Jul||somewhat||12:47 AM||NW||12:48 AM||NW|
|30-Jul||moderately||10:18 PM||NW||10:23 PM||NE|
|30-Jul||moderately||11:55 PM||NW||11:57 PM||N|
|31-Jul||moderately||9:26 PM||W/NW||9:31 PM||NE|
|31-Jul||moderately||11:03 PM||NW||11:06 PM||NE|
|1-Aug||somewhat||12:39 AM||NW||12:39 AM||NW|
|1-Aug||moderately||10:10 PM||NW||10:15 PM||NE|
|1-Aug||moderately||11:47 PM||NW||11:48 PM||N/NW|
|2-Aug||moderately||9:18 PM||NW||9:22 PM||NE|
|2-Aug||very||10:54 PM||NW||10:58 PM||NE|
|3-Aug||moderately||10:02 PM||NW||10:07 PM||E/NE|
|3-Aug||moderately||11:38 PM||W/NW||11:40 PM||NW|
|4-Aug||moderately||9:10 PM||NW||9:14 PM||E/NE|
|4-Aug||extremely||10:46 PM||NW||10:49 PM||N/NE|
|First Quarter:||Full:||Third Quarter:||New:|
|Jul. 30, 11:23 AM||Aug. 7, 2:10 PM||Aug. 14, 9:14 PM||Aug. 21, 2:30 PM|
The Moon's increasing brightness as Full Moon approaches washes out fainter stars, random meteors, and other celestial objects – this is bad for most observing, but excellent for new observers, as only the brightest stars (those that mark the major constellations) and planets remain visible for your easy identification. If you've never tried it, the Moon is a wonderful binocular object. The labeled image identifies features easily found with low-power binoculars.
Items and events listed below assume you're outside and observing most anywhere in New York state. The longer you're outside and away from indoor or bright lights, the better your dark adaption will be. If you have to use your smartphone, find a red light app or piece of red acetate, else set your brightness as low as possible.
Evening Skies: The two most prominent shapes in the sky are the Big Dipper and the Summer Triangle, with the Sagittarius Teapot highlighted in several previous articles. Whether or not you can see the Teapot, another very distinctive shape is as high as it will get in the southern sky right now just to the west. The body of Scorpius, easily identified by the bright red-orange star Antares and now residing below Saturn in the nighttime sky, hooks down and back up around the southern tree line at our latitude in a shape that nearly every civilization has recorded as being a celestial scorpion. Like the Teapot, the Scorpion tail is between us and the galactic center – a scan with binoculars will reveal a number of objects that do not come into focus like their surrounding stars.
The Big Dipper is a bright and easy guide for finding Polaris, the north star. From its handle, you can "arc" down to Arcturus. Jupiter, which stands out soon after sunset, is close to the bright star Spica in Virgo and to the southwest of bright Arcturus in Bootes. Saturn is also visible as dusk approaches, rising soon after the bright orange star Antares in Scorpius.
Morning Skies: Venus is unmistakable in the early morning sky, second only to the Moon in brightness before sunrise. The torso of Orion is increasingly peaking above the pre-dawn skies behind Taurus the Bull. As dawn approaches, Venus and the bright stars Betelgeuse, Aldebaran, and Capella may be the last few celestial objects you see.
Mercury: While technically visible after sunset this week, Mercury is very low on the horizon and awash in scattered sunlight. Observers with binoculars might consider scanning the western horizon before 9:15 p.m. to find it, but DO NOT risk doing so until after the sun has set, as even a moment of magnified sunlight will permanently damage your vision. For the patient, Mercury becomes a good early morning target with Mars in late August/early September.
Venus: Venus remains unmistakable in the early morning and even into sunrise, rising before 4:00 a.m. all week. With good, steady binoculars, you should be able to see that Venus is currently more than half-lit – and you can follow the changing phases of Venus as it and the Earth make our way around the Sun. Venus is currently flying over the club of the great winter constellation Orion along a line away from Aldebaran in Taurus and towards the foot of Pollux's twin Castor in the constellation Gemini. Over the course of the week, you'll see the Venus-Betelgeuse-Aldebaran geometry change from a right triangle to a slightly obtuse one.
Mars: Mars will not return to our pre-midnight skies until this time next year, but will become a morning target in late August/early September.
Jupiter: If you look south soon after sunset, Jupiter will be the brightest object you'll see this summer (or second-brightest if the Moon is out). Low power binoculars are excellent for spying the four bright Galilean moons – Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto – and several online guides will even map their orbits for you. Jupiter is to the west of the bright star Spica in Virgo, roughly a full fist-width if you measure with your arm fully-extended. As reported in last week's article as well, the Moon will nearly graze the top of Jupiter in the late-evening sky on July 28th. This will make for an excellent pairing this week – one that will look even better in binoculars.
Saturn: Still on the western edge of the brightest part of the Milky Way, Saturn is going to spend the next 17 months making its way to the eastern edge, all the while giving us an excellent observing target from late Spring to mid-Autumn. On the evening of August 2nd, the Moon will make its closest approach to Saturn before spending the 3rd and 4th flying over the "Teapot" that makes up the body of Sagittarius.
As a refresher from the June 30th to July 7th article, those looking in the direction of Saturn with binoculars are treated to a host of Messier ("M") Objects – all residing between ourselves and the center of the Milky Way galaxy above the spout of the Sagittarius teapot. A good star chart and some guide stars will help you determine just which object you're looking at.
Meteor Showers And Other Phenomena
The last few days have been very busy in the amateur astronomy community, with a newly reported comet, nova, and supernova all discovered after July 19th. These are very dim objects at present, but they may all be targets for large telescopes and seasoned amateurs at upcoming observing sessions in your area – consider seeking them out! Those without any observing equipment also have some great observing opportunities in the few weeks before the solar eclipse, with an Aquariid Meteor Shower peaking on July 30 and the usually-excellent Perseid Meteor Shower peaking on Aug. 12.
Southern delta Aquariid Meteor Shower: The constellation Aquarius hosts several meteor showers each year, although none of them reach the activity of the Perseids or Geminids. The Southern delta Aquariids are generally the second-busiest of these showers during the year, peaking in the very early morning of July 30th from the southwest. It will be easy to orient yourself towards the radiant if the skies are clear – look for the Summer Triangle, find the bright corner star Altair, and slide south to the bright star Fomalhaut. Expect up-to 15 shooting stars per hour. For your best chance at seeing the most meteors, lie down with your feet facing southwest.
Perseid Meteor Shower: The Perseids are arguably the best, and best-timed, meteor shower of the year. For a preview of where and when to look before next week's article, see the Perseid section of the UNY Stargazing from August 2016 article.