2019 is a great year to get out and see the night sky. All year long, there are interesting astronomical events and opportunities to see objects in our solar system. For some of these, you can spot them with your own eyes. For others, you’ll need stargazing equipment like a telescope or binoculars. This post is the third part in a series, and it focuses specifically on the most interesting astronomical objects you can see in 2019 – but which will require equipment to be visible.
Need to invest in binoculars or a telescope? Any pair of binoculars you have at home will help, or you can invest in binoculars created specifically to help with stargazing. Celestron offers two good options: the affordable Cometron 7×50 and the more expensive but more equipped SkyMaster Giant 15×70 with Tripod Adapter. Depending on your interest, you can find the pair that’s right for you. If you’re ready to invest in a telescope, the Celestron PowerSeeker 127EQ Telescope is a good starting telescope at an affordable price.
Don’t forget to check out the other two posts in this series:
- What To See In The Night Sky In 2019: Stargazing Sights (Part I)
- What To See In The Night Sky In 2019: Our Solar System (Part II)
Now let’s explore the wonders that our universe has to offer and the top astronomical sights to see in 2019 with your telescope or binoculars.
February 19 – Bode’s Galaxy is Well-Placed
The location of Bode’s Galaxy in orange, facing south
On February 19th, break in your new astronomy equipment by viewing Bode’s Galaxy. Bode’s Galaxy, Messier 81, is a beautiful spiral galaxy about 12 million light-years from earth. It is best viewed when it’s almost right overhead (as on the night of February 19th).
You’ll need binoculars at a minimum to view Bode’s Galaxy. It will be easily viewable throughout the northern hemisphere near the constellation Ursa Major. To spot Bode’s Galaxy, star hop from the non-spout end of the Big Dipper/Plough toward Polaris. Bode’s Galaxy is about one-third the distance to Polaris, off to the right as you look north.
Note that February 19th is the full moon. However, it shouldn’t interfere too much with viewing M81 due to where it will be placed in the sky.
March 18 – Comet 69P/Taylor at Perihelion
The location of Comet 69P / Taylor’s Comet in orange, facing north
Comet 69P, also known as Taylor’s Comet, will be at its perihelion – its closest point to the sun – on the night of March 18th. You’ll definitely need a telescope to view this comet in the sky after sunset. For most people, the comet will no longer be visible by about midnight local time.
To find Taylor’s Comet, look for the bright orange star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus; the comet will be in close proximity to this star, to the west.
Comet 69P has an orbital period of roughly 7 years. If you encounter cloudy skies or the rising nearly-full moon makes it difficult to see, you don’t have to wait long for another chance. Also, comets approaching perihelion can typically be observed for several nights on either side of the perihelion date.
March 25 – Dwarf Planet Makemake is Well-Placed
The location of Makemake in orange, facing SSW
On the night of March 25th, Makemake will be high in the sky in the perfect position for observation, in the constellation Coma Berenices. Makemake is a dwarf planet and possibly the largest planet in the Kuiper Belt, nearly two-thirds the diameter of Pluto. Despite its size, you’ll need a telescope to view Makemake.
On this night, Makemake is not only at opposition (opposite of the sun in the sky), but it’s also at perigee (when it is closest to the sun), making it appear bigger and brighter than other viewing times.
Makemake will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time. At that time, the moon will be near the southern horizon making it a great night to try and spot this small solar system object.
April 2 – The Sombrero Galaxy is Well-Placed
The location of the Sombrero Galaxy in orange, facing south
As its name suggests, the Sombrero Galaxy has a distinctive shape when viewed from the earth. If you want to see it for yourself, April 2nd is a great night to get out there to try. Also known as Messier 104, the Sombrero Galaxy is located in the constellation Virgo roughly 31.1 million light-years from earth. As such, you’ll definitely need a telescope to spot this pretty sight.
The constellation Virgo will be high in the sky on the night of April 2nd and most easily spotted from points in the southern hemisphere. From Virgo’s bright star Spica, look further south toward the star Algorab in the constellation Corvus. A night-sky map or app may help you here. The Sombrero Galaxy appears above the line between these two stars, roughly “halfway” visually between the two.
April 14 – Centaurus A is Well-Placed
The location of Centaurus A in orange, facing south
Continue galaxy-hunting in April on the night of April 14th, as Centaurus A will be high in the sky and perfectly placed for observing. Centaurus A, also called NGC 5128, is an unusually shaped galaxy with a supermassive black hole at its core. Massive ejections of light and matter form a distinctive shape that makes Centaurus A easy to spot and unforgettable. You’ll definitely need a telescope for this one.
Centaurus A will be most easily visible from points in the southern hemisphere. In North America, Centaurus A will be impossible to spot near the southern horizon, as pictured above. If you live at a southern latitude, look for the triangle formed by Rigel Kentaurus, Hadar, and ε-Cen in the constellation Centaurus. Centaurus A is higher in the sky from the long point of the triangle.
Similarly, the binary star Alpha Centauri AB and the globular cluster Omega Centaurus are also well-placed for observation on this right, as they’re all in the constellation Centaurus.
April 15 – The Whirlpool Galaxy is Well-Placed
The location of the Whirlpool Galaxy in orange, facing NE
Also known as Messier 51, The Whirlpool Galaxy is a favorite of amateur astronomers because it’s easy to spot and very distinctive. A grand-design spiral galaxy seen face-on (from the top), the Whirlpool Galaxy is also slowly interacting with neighboring dwarf galaxy NGC 5195. It appears that the Whirlpool is sucking in matter from NGC 5195, hence its name.
You can easily spot the Whirlpool Galaxy with astronomy binoculars near the constellation Ursa Major. Look for the Whirlpool Galaxy and NGC 5195 near the handle of the Big Dipper/Plough, high in the northern sky on the night of April 15th. While the moon will be somewhat bright passing its first quarter, it should be located far enough away to not interfere with galaxy-gazing opportunities.
While stargazing on April 15th, look for the dwarf planet Haumea. It will be visible in the constellation Boötes near the bright star of Arcturus, high in the southern sky. You’ll definitely need a telescope to see Haumea.
May 28 – Dwarf Planet Ceres at Opposition
The location of Ceres in orange, facing south
Toward the end of May, it’s your last chance of 2019 to see one of the five dwarf planets in our solar system. Ceres, the largest object in the asteroid belt, will reach both opposition and perigee around May 28th. This means it will reach the highest point in the sky at its closest to the earth when it will appear its biggest and brightest. You’ll still need a telescope to get a good view of Ceres though.
To find Ceres, look for Jupiter in the southeastern sky. Ceres will appear to the unaided eye as a star above Antares, the reddish star in the claw of Scorpius. With your telescope, you’ll get a good view of this small planet, which looks surprisingly like our own moon.
June 24 – NGC 6530 & the Lagoon Nebula are Well-Placed
The location of NGC 6530 & the Lagoon Nebula in orange, facing south
NGC 6530 is an open star cluster in the constellation Sagittarius close to the Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8). If you are stargazing in a very dark sky place, it might be possible to see NGC 6530 without a telescope or binoculars. If you’re stargazing in a place with any light pollution though, you’re going to need some equipment to see these two celestial objects.
In the northern hemisphere, NGC 6530 and the Lagoon Nebula will reach their highest point in the southern sky early on the morning of June 24th (just after midnight). Look for them between Saturn and Jupiter halfway along a straight line drawn between the two planets.
October 3 – The Andromeda Galaxy is Well-Placed
The location of the Andromeda Galaxy (M33) in orange, facing NE
While the Andromeda Galaxy is the closest spiral galaxy to our own Milky Way, it’s still about 2 million light-years away. If you want to see this celestial neighbor (yes, 2 million light-years still makes it a neighbor!), head out on the night of October 3rd, when the Andromeda Galaxy will be well-placed for observation and high in the sky.
You’ll need at least binoculars to see the Andromeda Galaxy, also known as Messier 31. Look high in the northeastern sky around midnight in the space between Casseopeia’s distinctive “W” shape and the constellation Andromeda. If the skies are dark and clear, you should be able to see the glowing shape of the galaxy, as we can see it from a diagonal angle.
While out stargazing on the night of October 3rd, be sure to look for the close approach of the moon and Jupiter. These two will approach each other after sunset and the waxing crescent moon will make a lovely sight near brightly illuminated Jupiter.
October 16 – The Triangulum Galaxy is Well-Placed
The location of the Triangulum Galaxy (M33) in orange, facing SE
A few days after seeing the Andromeda Galaxy, plan to go out and see its neighbor, the Triangulum Galaxy. These two galaxies are actually closer to each other than to the Milky Way: while the Triangulum Galaxy is roughly 3 million light-years from earth, it is only 750,000 light-years from the Andromeda Galaxy! They’re also quite close to one another in the night sky, which makes it easy to see them both on any given night of stargazing.
On the night of October 16th, the Triangulum Galaxy, Messier 33, will reach its highest point in the southeastern sky. To find the Triangulum Galaxy, look above the moon, which will be unfortunately bright on this night. In fact, depending on air quality in your area, you may want to try and spot the Triangulum Galaxy on October 3rd when you see Andromeda Galaxy instead. In either case, you’ll need at least binoculars to see this small spiral galaxy.
November 11 – Vesta at Opposition in Cetus
The location of Vesta in orange, facing south
After Ceres, which you saw on May 28th, Vesta is the second largest object in the asteroid belt, with a diameter of just 525km (326mi). Vesta will reach its highest point in the sky on the night of November 11th, making this a perfect time to try and see it. Be sure to grab a telescope for trying to spot Vesta, for as big as it seems, it’s quite small in the night sky.
At both opposition and perigee, Vesta will appear at its biggest and brightest around midnight local time, in the southern sky for most viewers. Unfortunately, a nearly-full moon will also be visible in the same part of the sky on this night, so you may want to head out to the darkest and clearest skies in your area to try and spot Vesta.
November 12 – Transit of Mercury
The final event of the year on this list of 2019 night sky events you can spot with a telescope or binoculars is actually not a nighttime event! On November 12th, there’s a rare chance to see Mercury Transit the sun (Mercury will pass in front of the sun and be observable here on earth). For most people in the Americas, the transit will occur in the hours near and following sunrise; in Europe, the transit will occur in the afternoon.
To see the Mercury Transit, you’ll need solar protection for both your eyes and any equipment you use to try and get a better view (such as solar filters for binoculars or your telescope lens). With eye protection on, look for a small black dot passing across the sun. It is possible to spot the Mercury Transit without any equipment, though a pair of binoculars or telescope with a solar filter will help you see our smallest solar system sibling.
Now you have a guide to seeing all of the most interesting celestial sights in the coming year with your telescope or binoculars. If you still need equipment, don’t forget to check out our recommendations at the top of this post.
Don’t forget that you can add our night sky events calendar to your favorite calendar app to get reminders when each of these events is approaching. You can also check out Part I and Part II of this series. These posts detail what you can see in the night sky in 2019 without equipment, and how to see each of the planets (plus the sun, moon, and Pluto) this year. There you’ll see all of the other night sky events happening this year. Happy hunting!
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Featured photo credit: Grand Canyon National Park via Flickr