Stellar summer: stargazing season

RoyalAuto magazine

Look to the heavens this summer for a comet, a meteor shower and a very big moon (just don’t call it a super moon). 

Story: Perry Vlahos.  Photo: Anne Morley.
November 2018.


Summer months are an inspiring time for looking at the heavens – some of the brightest stars and constellations are on public display overhead. Furthermore, many of us jump in our cars to the coast or the country for a summer break, which also takes us away from city lights to give us perfect conditions for stargazing. That’s the secret for the best star-viewing experience – don’t waste it!

Try some of the tastiest stellar morsels to savour this summer:

8 December: Star-be-cue

Get a jumpstart on the season’s astronomical treats by taking a trip to this event. It’s open to the public, but you need to book as non-member numbers are capped at 100. It’s held by the Astronomical Society of Victoria at its dark-sky site, 90 minutes’ drive north of Melbourne. The afternoon sees a barbecue, wine tasting and site tours. The evening includes a guided tour of the visible universe and a viewing through the largest telescopes in Victoria. Go to asv.org.au for more details. 

14–15 December: Geminid Meteor Shower

This annual appearance of ‘shooting stars’ is most impressive in the country away from city lights, where you may see up to 30 meteors per hour, (or 10 to 15 if you’re in the suburbs) with the naked eye. Look north-east, for at least an hour, between midnight and dawn.

16–17 December: Comet Wirtanen

Comets are notoriously unpredictable, so I write this with the caveat that it could be a fizzer. However, if all goes to plan, go to the country and look for it as a very faint fuzzy ball, no tail. It will be in the north-east sky, just right of the shimmering Pleiades star cluster (Seven Sisters). Binoculars will help, begin to search when it gets dark.


1–6 January: International Space Station (ISS)

 Celebrate the New Year by looking for the ISS as it makes a bright pass over Victoria each night of the first week of January. It will be brighter than the brightest stars. Go to heavens-above.com and put in your location for times and direction to look.

21 January: big, big moon!

Astronomers call it ‘perigee’ but some astrologer called it ‘super moon’ and sadly it stuck! But what it means is that the moon is at its closest to Earth (only 356,000 kilometres) at full moon. On this night, find an unobstructed north/north-east horizon, look from 8.45pm and in a few minutes the moon will rise as big as you may ever see it.

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