Park the car beneath the stars. Grab some snacks and get ready to gaze. Family sky-watching experiences have already started for 2017, and there are still some to catch upon which you can make a wish. If you’ve never sky-watched with the family, it’s a good tradition to start and makes memories for a lifetime.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis suggests you mark your calendar for these celestial events left in 2017:
#1 Solar Eclipse
August 21, around noon-3:00 pm
The last total solar eclipse visible in the continental United States occurred in 1979, and the next one will not take place until 2024. To see the total solar eclipse, you must be in the path of totality on August 21st. The path of totality crosses just a bit south of us in Kentucky, so consider taking a day trip to see it.
When viewing the eclipse, DO NOT look directly at the sun. It’s not safe. You can purchase eclipse-viewing glasses for less than a dollar or create a pin-hole camera can be made at home!
#2 Occultation of Regulus
August 21 and October 15
Regulus is in the constellation Leo. It’s often referred to as the “heart of the lion,” and sits on the Sun’s ecliptic path. Occultation occurs when the moon passes in front of a star. This happens often, but Regulus is a particularly special star to occult the moon because it is one of the few stars on the ecliptic path. This year, on the same date as the solar eclipse, the moon will also occult Regulus.
The occultation of Regulus will happen once a month until April 2018, but it isn’t always visible from the U.S. The next best date to see the occultation of Regulus is October 15 between 9 and 6 a.m.
#3 Saturn at Opposition
June 15, 10:00 pm-5:00 am
Look toward the south to find Saturn a bit higher in the sky than Sagittarius (whose bright stars resemble a teapot) and Scorpius (whose tail forms a large fishhook). The two brightest dots on the southern side of the sky should be Saturn and Antares. Saturn will be the yellowish dot on the left, and Antares will be the redder star on the right. Saturn will be bright for several weeks, so don’t despair if June 15th is cloudy.
#4 Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter
November 13, pre-dawn
Before sunrise on Nov 13, the two brightest planets—Venus and Jupiter—will be strikingly close together—less than the width of your finger held at arms-length! The planets will appear closest together on Nov. 13, but they will move together and then apart in the weeks before and after. Look close to the eastern horizon around 6:45 am. Though November 13 is the closest together they will be, Venus and Jupiter will still appear close together for several days before and after.
#5 Geminids Meteor Shower
December 13, 9:00 pm-6:00 am
No sky-watching list is complete without a good meteor shower. This year the Geminids in December will be the king of meteor showers due to the high volume of meteors (an average of 1-2 per minute) and the fact that the moon will not interfere with the show. The shower runs from December 7-17, but its peak will be the night of the 13th and morning of the 14th. Plan to spend an hour watching the skies–and don’t use binoculars! They restrict your field of view.
If you’re looking for year-round space insight, check out Beyond Spaceship Earth at The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis. It tells the dynamic story of space exploration from NASA’s Project Mercury program, which sent the first Americans into space, to the International Space Station (ISS). It is an immersive, hands-on exhibit that helps families understand what it is like to live and work in space!