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Monday, June 27, 2016

A skywatcher's guide to summer in Toronto

skywatching torontoSummer in Toronto and its surrounding area is the best time to do a little skywatching. For most celestial events it doesn't take a whole lot of planning to take in the spectacle: you just need to know when something is happening, where to look, and to make sure your drink is topped up. Sometimes light pollution is an issue, but that's what cottages and camping are for.

Here's a skywatcher's guide to summer in Toronto.


There are plenty of celestial events that only require you to look to the night sky in order to appreciate their beauty, but meteor showers and the aurora borealis do not fall into this category. When chasing such events, you'll want to consult a dark skies map to ensure that you're viewing from a location that's not beset with too much light pollution.


July is not shaping up to be a promising month for aurora activity according to various space forecasts, but the key to catching the northern lights is to be prepared when a geomagnetic storm does happen.

You'll want to have your dark view position secured using this map, and to track information related to the force of the storm using Canadian Space Weather. You can also sign up for aurora alerts in the event of an unpredicted storm.


International Space Station (July 8 and 9)
You'll have to wake up very early (or stay up very late) to catch this one, but on July 8 and 9 the ISS will pass over Toronto for about a minute. On Friday it'll appear just atop the horizon in the southeast (10° SSE) and pass for about two minutes at 4:38 a.m. and on Saturday it'll be 10° above SW for one minute at 5:19 a.m. It'll be like a super bright star passing by.

Full Buck Moon (July 19)
The simplest way to partake in some skywatching from the confines of ever-bright Toronto is to track full moons. This one takes its name from the aboriginal lunar calendar, which notes that the male buck deer begins to grow its antlers around this time.

Delta Aquarids meteor shower (July 28-29)
Consider this a lead up to one of summer's biggest celestial events, the Perseid meteor shower. This one is considerably smaller, but worth looking for if you don't mind getting away from Toronto's light pollution. As many as 20 meteors per hour can be seen on the night of the 28th into the morning of the 29th, with the best viewing taking place after midnight.

Perseid meteor shower (August 11-12)
This is the big one. Be sure to get to the darkest spot you can to take in the show this year, which could be very big. The peak of the shower will happen after the moon has set and sky forecasters suggest there might be an "outburst" this year, leading to double the rate of visible meteors. As many as 150-200 meteors could be visible per hour. Pray for clear skies.

Mercury eastern elongation (August 16)
Forget the fancy name, what's noteworthy here is that Mercury will be at its highest point above the horizon and thus easiest to view. The planet can be found low in the western sky shortly after sunset.

Venus and Jupiter double planet (August 27-28)
This is another one that you can watch from within the city. Just after the sun sets, Venus and Jupiter will sit right next to one another in the southwestern sky for a dazzling planetary display.

Neptune at opposition (September 3)
This one is for those who own a telescope. Neptune is a difficult planet to spot because it's so profoundly far away from Earth, but it will be fully illuminated and at its closest point tonight, which means that a decent telescope will render it as a blue dot.

Did I miss any skywatching events worth inclusion? Add your suggestions in the comments.

Photo by Sanjin Avdicevic in the blogTO Flickr pool.

by Derek Flack via blogTO

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