2018 is going to be a good year for shooters interested in capturing the night sky. Here are a few night sky events you should put on your calendar, along with some great gear recommendations for capturing them.
January 31st: Supermoon and Lunar Eclipse
This will be the last of the two supermoons for 2018 (the first one happened at the top of the year) so you won’t want to miss this! If you’re ordering a super telephoto lens for the event, then you’ll want your order to arrive at your house or workplace (wherever is easier to sign for a package) no later than Monday the 29th or Tuesday the 30th so that you have a day or so to get a feel for your gear. To ship in time, you’ll want to put in your order early this week (January 23rd/24th, unless picking up locally at our warehouses) to be on the safe side.
Totality Start Times
But that’s not all that’s happening on January 31st. Not only will the moon this night appear larger (thanks to a close approach to Earth), but a lunar eclipse will also occur. Unlike last year’s solar eclipse, you won’t need any special eye or sensor protection to view this. Totality will begin at approximately 4:51 AM PST (2:51 AM in Hawaii and 3:51 AM in Alaska). You can see it over the western Pacific Ocean, in Alaska, western Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Hawaii, Indonesia, the Philippines, China, and Japan. East coast North Americans will witness a partial eclipse at around 6:48 AM EST. Alaska and Hawaii are in the best viewing positions. Other good U.S. locations include the northwest corner of Nevada and all of Oregon and Washington.
Lunar eclipses are quite photogenic. When our sun, Earth, and moon are aligned, the moon turns a beautiful and alluring orange-red as it passes through Earth’s shadow.
July 27th: Lunar Eclipse and Mars at Opposition
A second lunar eclipse occurs on July 27th and will be visible to people in South America, Europe, Africa, western and central Asia, and Western Australia. This will also be the night that Mars will be at its brightest in 2018. Mars at Opposition is when Earth passes between Mars and our sun and whenever Earth and Mars are on the same side of our sun, brightness ensues.
And that’s not all! A few days later, on July 31st, Mars will be at its closest point to Earth (about 110,400 miles closer than on Opposition day) and will appear at 95% of its maximum size (no, it won’t look as big as the moon, which is a common rumor – but it will still be an exciting sight). It won’t look this big again until 2035. This night will be particularly special for people in Eastern Africa and central Asia because it is rare for lunar eclipses to coincide with Mars at Opposition events. People in the Americas won’t be able to see both at once. But everyone can enjoy a brighter-than-average Mars from July 21st through August 6th.
Even at Opposition Mars is still going to be pretty small (again, ignore those “as big as the moon” rumors). Even our longest super telephoto lens isn’t going to cut it. We recommend telescopes for Mars, like our Celestron NexStar 6SE 1500mm Telescope (or longer). You may also want to consider focusing less on Mars by itself and take landscape photos that happen to have the little, temporarily-super-bright planet in the sky, which will make great photographic mementos.
August 13th: Perseid Meteor Shower
This annual event is usually one of the most exciting of the meteor showers thanks to its uniquely bright and numerous meteors (approximately 60-100 an hour)! It runs from about July 17th through August 24th but it peaks this year the night of August 12th (and continuing into the wee hours of August 13th, where it will reach its maximum activity). They come down in the same direction as the constellation Perseus near the Double Cluster, in the northeastern part of the sky in the Northern Hemisphere. On the night of August 12th, the moon will be in a Waxing Crescent phase, which is the first phase after a New Moon (when the moon has no apparent illumination). On the night of the 12th, the moon will have only about a 2-3% illumination – great conditions for watching a meteor shower.
Unlike the other celestial events listed here, meteor showers are better viewed unaided and with the naked eye. All you need for a fun night out is a blanket and/or chair, a wide angle lens, some stabilization, and a camera that will allow for long exposures or use of a shutter release remote. This is also a great opportunity for a time-lapse. You will want to get far away from any light pollution to take full advantage.
For a complete list of 2018’s night sky events, please check out Sea and Sky’s Astronomy Calendar of Celestial Events for Calendar Year 2018.
Resources for Night Sky Beginners
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