Mercury rings in the New Year! The planet closest to the Sun will reach its greatest western elongation just before sunrise on New Year's Day. Use a telescope to catch a glimpse of tiny Mercury perched above the eastern horizon before the Sun rises.
Orion, our favorite constellation, is well-placed for stargazers throughout January. Take a closer look at the middle of Orion's sword with binoculars or a telescope to reveal amazing views of the bright emission nebula M42. Use a telescope at high powers to resolve the system of four "newborn" stars at the center of M42 that form a trapezoid, known as the Trapezium. If you'll be viewing in a light polluted area, use an Orion UltraBlock filter to boost contrast for better views.
January ends with a total lunar eclipse on January 31st. The Full Moon will become darkened by the Earth's shadow, which is also known as the umbra. Stargazers across most of northwestern North America can expect a special celestial treat as the Earth passes directly between the Sun and the Moon, which will gradually get darker and turn a rusty red color.
Get out your 50mm or larger astronomy binoculars for great views of the Pleiades open star cluster (M45), which will be high in the northwestern sky during February. While M45 can be seen with unaided eyes from a rural location with dark skies, the open star cluster is a much more spectacular sight in binoculars or telescopes with a low-power wide-field eyepiece.
It's worth rising before dawn on February 10th to see bright planets Saturn, Mars and Jupiter line up with the waning crescent Moon. Before the Sun rises, look just above the south/southeast horizon to see Saturn to the east of the Moon, and glimpse Mars and Jupiter to the west.
In late February, bright galaxies M81 & M82 are well-placed for stargazers to enjoy. While the galaxies are visible with a 50mm or larger binocular, we suggest you use a large telescope for great views of M81 & M82 just off the leading edge of the Big Dipper asterism. Many observers consider this the best visual pairing of galaxies in the sky.
Sparkling star clusters adorn the night sky throughout March. Along with the Pleiades star cluster (M45) which continues to be well-placed in March skies, the Beehive cluster (M44) near Cancer, and the must-see Double Cluster in Perseus are well-placed in March. Use a big binocular to explore these twinkling clusters, or use a wide-field telescope for a closer look.
Check out a pretty pairing of Jupiter and the Moon from midnight March 6th into the early hours of March 7th. The largest planet in the Solar System will appear as close as 4.1░ from the waning gibbous Moon.
Some of the best galaxies to see are spread across the night skies of March from constellations Ursa Major to Virgo. Use a big telescope and take advantage of the New Moon on March 17th to set sail for these distant galaxies!
After midnight in early April, get outside to catch a glimpse of planets Mars and Saturn close together in the sky. Starting April 2nd, the two planets will appear close to one another and spread further apart night to night through mid-April. On April 7th, the Moon makes it a party of three as it joins Mars and Saturn.
With the Virgo Galaxy Cluster, the Big Dipper, and Coma Berenices well-positioned in the sky, April evenings are gifts for galaxy hounds. Check out a few of our favorite galaxies: M101, M51, and M106 near the Big Dipper asterism in Ursa Major; M86, M87, M84 and M104 in the Virgo Galaxy Cluster; and don't miss NGC 4565, M64, M99, and M100 in the constellation Coma Berenices.
Spot so-called "shooting stars" of the Lyrids meteor shower when it peaks after midnight on April 22nd into the early morning hours of the 23rd. The waning crescent Moon will be out, but it shouldn't make it too difficult to spot meteors. The Lyrids shower often produces meteors with impressive dust trails that can last several seconds.
Gigantic Jupiter reaches opposition on May 9th, making it the best night of the year to explore the gas giant planet and its four brightest moons Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Since Jupiter will be directly opposite the Sun from Earth, it will be visible all night long. Opposition occurs when a planet reaches its closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit. Take advantage of Jupiter's brightest night of the year and take a closer look at its cloud band "stripes" and four Galilean moons with any size telescope.
Go globular in May! There are great viewing opportunities to see globular star clusters in May, including M3 in the constellation Bo÷tes, the Great Cluster M13 in the keystone asterism of Hercules, M5 in Serpens, and M92 in the northern section of Hercules.
Throughout May, use a large telescope and set sail for face-on spiral galaxies. Check out the classic pinwheel shapes of galaxies M51 and M101 in the Big Dipper asterism of Ursa Major, and M99 and M100 in the Virgo galaxy cluster.
Summer stargazing season kicks off in June with great opportunities to see a host of globular and open star clusters, emission nebulas, and more. Grab a pair of big binoculars and scan the summer Milky Way for great views of cloudy nebulas and sparkling star clusters. Get outside after sunset on June 24th to enjoy especially dark skies courtesy of the New Moon.
The best night of the year to see majestic Saturn in a telescope occurs when it reaches opposition on June 27th. Since the ringed planet will be directly opposite the Sun from Earth, Saturn will be visible all night long and it will appear brighter than any other night of the year. While Saturn and its rings can be seen in almost any size telescope, opposition is a great time to go after more challenging views of Saturn's brighter moons such as Titan and Enceladus, which can be detected in 6" and larger telescopes under dark skies.
The Summer Triangle, comprising beacon stars Vega (in Lyra), Deneb (in Cygnus), and Altair (in Aquila), will be fully visible in June. Several celestial gems lie within the Summer Triangle, including the Ring Nebula (M57), the Dumbbell Nebula (M27), open star cluster M29, and the visually challenging Crescent Nebula (NGC 6888). To catch a glimpse of the elusive Crescent, you'll almost certainly need an Orion Oxygen-III Filter in a larger telescope.
Just after the Sun sets on July 12th, tiny planet Mercury will reach its greatest eastern elongation. Since Mercury will be at its highest point in the evening sky, it's a great opportunity to observe the tiny planet. It won't be high in the sky for long though, so look above the western horizon after sunset to catch the elusive planet.
With constellation Hercules almost directly overhead and Scorpius to the south, there's plenty to see in July skies as summer continues. Check out globular star clusters M13 and M92 in Hercules, and explore Scorpius to find numerous deep-sky objects including open clusters M6 and M7, and globular clusters M4 and M80.
On July 27th, red planet Mars will reach opposition, making its closest approach to Earth in its orbit. Since Mars will be directly opposite the Sun in the sky as seen from Earth, the planet will rise at sunset and set at sunrise, providing a welcome opportunity for great views in a telescope. You can easily enhance your views of Mars with our exclusive, custom-designed Orion Mars Observation Filter to eke out details of subtle Martian landscape features.
Go outside after midnight on August 12th for the best chance to see the peak of the Perseids meteor shower. With up to 60 meteors expected per hour, this is one of the most popular meteor showers of the year. Conditions will be excellent this year since the thin crescent Moon will set early on the 12th, providing dark skies.
After sunset on August 17th, bright planet Venus will be at its greatest eastern elongation, reaching its highest point in the sky. Look above the western horizon right after the Sun sets to catch a glimpse of our next-door neighbor planet in a telescope.
Many excellent examples of gaseous nebulas are on display in the skies of August. The brightest are M16 the Eagle Nebula, M17 the Swan Nebula, M20 the Trifid Nebula and the very bright M8, Lagoon Nebula. All are visible in binoculars from dark locations with good seeing. Use a small to moderate aperture telescope with the aid of an Oxygen-III eyepiece filter or broadband SkyGlow filter to see these nebulas from locations plagued by light pollution.
The fall stargazing season kicks off in September with wonderfully placed spiral galaxies M31 in Andromeda, M33 in Triangulum, and M74 in Pisces. Use a big telescope to see these distant galaxies.
Off the western side of the constellation Pegasus, three globular star clusters almost line up in a row from north to south in September skies. These globular clusters are, from north to south, M15 in Pegasus, M2 in Aquarius and M30 in Capricorn. From a dark sky site you can easily find all of them in 50mm or larger binoculars.
For the best conditions to see the galaxies and clusters described above, plan a stargazing session for the night of September 9th, when the New Moon will provide dark skies. This is the best night of the month to observe the night sky, since light from stars and faint deep sky objects won't have to compete with bright moonlight.
Take advantage of dark skies courtesy of the New Moon on October 9th to go after views of the many deep sky treats October has to offer. Low in the southwestern sky, in the constellation Sagittarius, track down four great emission nebulas: M8, the Lagoon; M20, the Trifid; M17 the Omega; and M16, the Eagle. Two great planetary nebulas are still well-placed in October skies ? M57, the Ring Nebula in Lyra; and M27, the Dumbbell Nebula in Vulpecula. Look for interesting galaxy NGC 7331 in the northwestern section of Pegasus. With a 12" or larger aperture telescope and good seeing conditions, you may be able to tease out the galaxy's faint spiral arms.
Sit back and relax in your favorite backyard chair to watch the Orionid meteor shower in October. This year, the waxing gibbous Moon will outshine some of the fainter meteors, but there will still be good opportunities to see so-called "shooting stars" streak across the sky. The best time to see meteors will be during the shower peak after midnight October 21st into the early hours of the 22nd. The Orionid shower is notoriously irregular, so there's a good chance to see meteors any night from October 20th through the 24th.
November is sometimes called "the month of the Pleiades," since the star cluster is visible all night long for observers in the Northern hemisphere. From a dark sky site, M45 is easy to see with the unaided eye and resembles a small "teaspoon" pattern in the sky. Use astronomy binoculars for immersive views of this open star cluster, or use a telescope with a lower-power eyepiece for a closer look at the Seven Sisters.
Bundle up and get outside after midnight on November 17th to see the peak of the Leonids meteor shower as "shooting stars" appear to radiate outwards from the constellation Leo. Since the waxing gibbous Moon will set in the wee hours of November 18th, skies will be nice and dark for meteor-gazing.
Use a pair of big binoculars or a shorter focal length telescope with a wide-field eyepiece in November to seek out the sparkling Double Cluster in Perseus ? two side by side open star clusters NGC 884 and NGC 869.
Thanks to the New Moon of December 7th, skies will dark enough for nice views distant deep-sky objects with a telescope, making it a great night for a holiday star party. Check out open cluster M45 (Pleiades), the Andromeda Galaxy (M31), and the many gems within our namesake constellation Orion, including M42 the Orion Nebula, emission nebula M78, and the large emission patch NGC 2174/2175 also known as the Monkey Head nebula. If you have a 10" or larger aperture telescope, take advantage of the New Moon to go after views of the elusive Horsehead Nebula located near Alnitak ? the easternmost star of Orion's easily recognizable belt.
One of the most famous meteor showers, the Geminids, peaks after midnight December 13th into the early morning hours of the 14th. This impressive shower is known to produce up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. This year, the waxing crescent Moon will set a bit after midnight, leaving skies nice and dark for great viewing conditions. While this shower can produce meteors nightly from December 7th through the 17th, the best chance to see a high concentration of meteors will be in the predawn hours of December 14th.