Best Stargazing Events for 2017
Download a 5-minute podcast discussing the Best 5 Stargazing events for 2017 (5.5-Meg MP3 file).
#1 -- The Evening Star: A celestial beacon shining brilliantly in the evening twilight is a great way to start the year, which is exactly what we're gifted with in 2017. Venus is radiant in the west after sunset, visible each evening from January until early March, earning it the nick-name "Evening Star". Adding to the picturesque scene is the crescent Moon, which lies near Venus at dusk on January 01 & 02, January 31 & February 01, and on March 01. After March, Venus moves into the morning sky where it can be enjoyed as the "Morning Star". During July, the tiny and rapidly-moving planet Mercury stands in as Evening Star; July is the best time this year to glimpse the little planet. On the evenings of July 24, 25, and 26, the crescent Moon joins Mercury at dusk.
#2 -- Eclipse of the Sun: A solar eclipse - when the Moon lies between us and the Sun - shows off the dynamic nature of our solar system. On the afternoon of February 26, as seen from southern Africa and southern South America, the Moon partially obscures the Sun. The eclipse begins at 14:10 and ends at 19:36. Safe methods for viewing an eclipse - which if done incorrectly will damage your eyes - are described on the ASSA website.
Sometimes, the Earth's shadow falls on the Moon, and a lunar eclipse can be witnessed. There is one such eclipse during 2017, on the evening of August 07, but it won't be particularly striking since the Moon just skims the edge of the Earth's shadow and the subsequent darkening is only slight.
#3 -- The Full Moon, big and small: When the Earth is located between the Sun and the Moon, we see the Moon fully illuminated with sunlight, hence a "full" Moon. On the day of a Full Moon, as the Sun sets behind the western horizon, the Moon is just rising above the eastern horizon. As the twilight deepens into night, the Moon seems to loom above the eastern horizon, and is a great opportunity to have a good howl. For an even better view, look the day before Full Moon: the almost-full Moon will then be above the horizon as twilight falls, presenting an excellent photo opportunity with enough light to capture terrestrial subjects with the Moon in the background. But be aware of the "moon illusion"! This sneaky optical illusion fools the mind into thinking the Moon is much larger than it really is. Your camera, however, isn't fooled at all, and on a typical photograph of the Full Moon low on the horizon, the Moon appears much smaller than expected. To recreate the massive Moon effect with a camera, use a powerful zoom lens and include a distant object in the frame next to the Moon: voila!
As the Moon orbits the Earth, it follows an elliptical path, meaning that the distance to the Moon is constantly changing. It takes the Moon about 27 days and 8 hours to complete a single orbit. Also, as the position of the Moon and Sun as seen from Earth changes, the Moon appears to go through a cycle of shadow phases, from New to Full and back again. From one phase to the next is about 29 days and 13 hours. This combination of orbital period and cycle of phases - close but not exact - means that Full Moons don't always happen at the same distance from the Earth. Sometimes the Full Moon is nearer to us than at other times. During 2017, the largest Full Moon is on December 03 and the smallest Full Moon is on June 09.
Don't be confused by the "moon illusion" - this effect only happens in your mind. The real size of the Moon depends on how far away it is. Here's an experiment: take a photograph of the Full Moon on June 09, and use the same camera settings on December 03 and take a second photograph, and compare them for yourself.
#4 -- The Big 5 of the African Sky: The best examples of each celestial object type - star clusters, nebulae (gas clouds) and galaxies - visible from Africa are known as the Big 5 of the African Sky. These exotic and gorgeous specimens are the Southern Pleiades, omega Centauri, the eta Carinae Nebula, the Coal Sack, and the southern Milky Way. They can all be seen with the naked eye from a dark site, are outstanding when seen using binoculars, and mind-blowing when observed through a telescope. All five of the Big 5 can be seen in the morning sky during April, at midnight during June, and in the evening sky during August.
Find out more: Big5 page on the ASSA website
#5 -- Star parties: Long dark nights under the stars, surrounded by telescopes, star gazers, and the beautiful cosmos, is what star parties are all about. Astronomy enthusiasts, from beginners to experts, gather at several times in different places to observe the sky, discuss astronomical subjects, and share in the camaraderie of their fellow star gazers. During 2017 you can look forward to the Summer Southern Star Party (February 22 – 27, Leeuwenboschfontein, Cape), the Karoo Star Party (April 24 – 28, near Britstown), the Free State Star Party (June 23 – 25, near Brandfort), the MSP Star Party (July 21 – 23, near Rustenburg) and the Spring Southern Star Party (October 18 – 23, near Bonnievale, Western Cape).
nothing more to see. please move along.