July 2020 is a stargazer’s dream, and a great family activity to enjoy during these socially distant times. Here’s what to look forward to, and how you and your kids can make the most of it!
Here’s what you can see:
- Delta Aquariids Meteor Shower: This meteor shower is the gift that keeps on giving. From July 12-August 23, this shower is most visible at its peak, which is July 28 & 29. It will also be easier to view July 31 & Aug. 1, during the new moon.
- Comet NEOWISE: If you’re an early riser, you can see this comet streaking through the sky at dawn. However, from July 12-15, you can see it at dusk, on the northwest horizon. Expert tip: Use binoculars.
- Saturn & Jupiter viewing: Saturn and Jupiter are orbiting close to Earth right now, making them both more visible from our planet. Jupiter will be easiest to view July 14, with Saturn close behind on July 20. To view both planets, look to the southeast for lights that are not twinkling: Jupiter is the second brightest light in the sky, while Saturn can be seen as a large, golden light.
- Perseid Meteor Shower: This is one of the most famous annual meteor showers in the Northern Hemisphere, with up to 40-50 meteors per hour. Perseid peaks Aug. 11-13, but is visible from around July 17-Aug. 24.
- Summer constellations: Did you know it’s easier to view certain constellations during specific seasons? I didn’t. But I was excited to learn there are a number of summertime constellations that become more visible, including the Summer Triangle, Sagittarius, Scorpius and Hercules.
For specific viewing dates, click here.
Here’s how to view them:
- Get an early start: If you have early risers, pre-dawn stargazing may be the way to go for your family. Many of the beauties listed above are at their best before dawn.
- Get in the dark: While you can certainly see some of these from your own yard, the further away you get from the lights of KC, the better. Astronomers suggest getting about an hour out of town for serious stargazing, then giving your eyes another hour to adjust to the dark. Keep your phone as dim as possible, and get a red light flashlight (or phone app) so you can find things as your eyes adjust.
- Keep the kids occupied: Have snacks, your kids’ favorite playlist, and word games or stories on hand to keep them from getting restless.
- Get a star chart: If, like me, you can’t find a constellation or planet, no matter how hard you try, use Google Sky Maps, or get a star chart app like StarWalk 2 or Skyview Free (Apple or Android).
- Expand your vision: While you should be able to see many things with the naked eye, a set of binoculars should come in handy. Have a telescope on hand, even better!
- Supplies: In addition to the usual outing items: snacks (per above), bug spray, and blankets, bring along favorite stuffed animals or blankies for a snuggly and sleepy car ride home.
Here’s another great read, with great advice for novice stargazers, and kid-friendly ideas on preparing to view the night sky.