Have you ever seen the solar system? That may seem like a strange question, but at certain times of the year, it’s possible to look up at night and see the moon and the planets strung out in a line across the sky from east to west. Look from south to north and you may see the Milky Way, too (try around midnight), though it’s June and July’s incredible views of the planets, the moon, and the Sun (the latter both together in a total solar eclipse, an then a partial lunar eclipse, in July) that makes 2019 a real ‘solar system summer’ that’s not to be missed.
Here’s everything you need to know about what’s happening, when it’s happening, and where best to be to witness it all.
1 – Jupiter at Opposition: Monday, June 10, 2019
Best time to see: anytime after dark, but particularly around midnight
Best place to see: anywhere on Earth
If you want to see Jupiter at its brightest and best, get outside at midnight on Monday, June 10. For a few hours, the giant planet will be as bright as it ever gets in our skies, and a small telescope should be able to show you it’s beautiful pink cloud bands. However, all you need is any pair of binoculars and you’ll be able to see it’s four so-called Galilean moons: Io, Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa. They are an incredible sight. From the northern hemisphere, you can see Jupiter rising in the southeast at dusk, though technically it’s at its very brightest of the year only for a few hours either side of midnight.
2 – Full Strawberry ‘Midsummer Moon’
Best time to see: dusk on Monday, June 17, 2019
Best place to see: anywhere with a clear eastern (moonrise) or western (moonset) horizon
Some people get annoyed about the media coverage of full moons, especially the bizarre names assigned to them, but there is no doubting that moonrise and moonset are among the most beautiful sites in nature. This month the Full Strawberry Moon, so-called because of the seasonal ripening of the fruit in North America, will rise on June 17, shine all night long, and set the following morning. Although the night of the full moon is a poor choice for studying the moon’s surface with a pair of binoculars or a small telescope, the few minutes after moonrise and before moonset are nothing short of stunning. This “midsummer moon” is also the lowest in the northern hemisphere sky of all the year’s full moons, so it may appear to be brighter, and slightly larger, than usual, though only because it’s a notch closer to the horizon. The official moment of the moon being full is at 08:31 UTC (Universal Coordinated Time).
3 – Summer Solstice: Friday, June 21, 2019
Best time to ‘see’: 1:54 a.m. EDT and 08:54 a.m. PDT
Best place to see: N/A
June’s Full Strawberry Moon does not coincide with the northern hemisphere’s Summer Solstice, but it’s not far off. This year, solstice occurs on Friday, June 21, 2019, at 15:54 UTC (Universal Coordinated Time), and though there’s nothing to see per se (it’s the point when Earth’s northern axis is tilted towards the Sun, which appears to be directly over the Tropic of Cancer) it’s surely worth acknowledging the effect of Earth’s 23.5° axial tilt, which gives us the seasons.
4 – Total Solar Eclipse: Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Best time to see: 18:01:08 (UTC) on Tuesday, July 2, 2019
Best place to see: On a cruise ship near the Pitcairn Islands, inland from La Serena in central Chile, and around Bella Vista in western Argentina
It’s been a while since the last total solar eclipse, which was in the USA on August 21, 2017. This time it’s the turn of the South Pacific, Chile, and Argentina to go under the shadow of the moon. There will be eclipse-chasers on very expensive cruises near the Pitcairn Islands in the South Pacific who will enjoy almost three-and-a-half minutes of totality. However, those in South America will see a maximum of two minutes 35 seconds.
5 – Moon, Mars, Mercury & the Beehive Cluster, Thursday, July 4, 2019
Best time to see: just after dusk on Thursday, July 4, 2019
Best place to see: Anywhere with a clear western horizon
If you’re outside at dusk on Independence Day, check-out four sparkling sights sinking in the western sky just after dark. A beautifully slim crescent moon will be visible just to the left of the Beehive Cluster, a sparkling collection of stars between our satellite and two planets, Mars and Mercury. The latter is something of a collector’s item for planet-spotters, so don’t miss out … and don’t hang around, for all four celestial objects will soon dip below the horizon.
6 – Saturn at Opposition: Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Best time to see: anytime in July, but particular around midnight on Tuesday, July 9, 2019
Best place to see: anywhere on Earth
Just as Jupiter went into “opposition” in June, so too does Saturn in July. On this date, Earth is directly between the Ringed Planet and the Sun, making the gas giant appear at its brightest of the year in Earth’s sky. If you’ve never seen Saturn’s delicate ring pattern, now is the perfect time, for as well as being the brightest they ever get, the ring system is ideally angled for a good view from the northern hemisphere.
7 – Half-Blood Thunder Moon (Partial Lunar Eclipse), Tuesday, July 16, 2019
Best time to see: 20:01:43 (UTC)
Best place to see: anywhere but North America
Eclipses of the Sun are almost always preceded, or followed, by an eclipse of the Moon. Almost exactly two weeks after a New Moon crossed the ecliptic to cause a total solar eclipse, so too it’s ideally positioned to again intersect the ecliptic and so drift into Earth’s shadow. However, not only will it not be a full “blood moon” (because the satellite only enters Earth’s outer shadow, not its darker inner umbra), but it will also only be viewable from South America, Africa, Europe, Asia and Australasia. For those in the right place, a half-blood moon will be visible for about two hours. North America has to sit this one out, and will see “only” a regular Full Moon.
8 – Delta Aquarids meteor shower, Sunday/Monday July 28/29, 2019
Best time to see: Very early hours of July 29, 2019
Best place to see: Any dark sky location
Don’t get too excited about this meteor shower, because it is only predicted to produce about 20 ”shooting stars” per hour at its peak, but it’s the best we have this summer. Normally, the Perseid meteor shower on August 12/13 is the one to go for, but this year that reliable display is interrupted by strong moonlight. So this year we only have the Delta Aquarids, which is produced by debris left behind by two comets. If nothing else it’s a great night to go stargazing.