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Planetariums, observatories and astronomy on Long Island

Space is, indeed, the final frontier, and it's

Space is, indeed, the final frontier, and it's fun to explore at the Custer Institute & Observatory in Southold. Credit: John Ward

Long Island, with its expanse of clear skies and, especially on the East End, little light pollution, is a great place to observe celestial happenings. This fall into winter offers meteor showers, planetary sightings and even supermoons. Here are the best places on the Island to take in an astronomy lecture and, on a clear night, observe the stars, planets and the Milky Way.

AMATEUR OBSERVERS’ SOCIETY OF NEW YORK, aosny.org, astronomy-themed public meeting each first Sunday of the month from Oct. to June at Hofstra University, 2nd Sunday in Sept., Berliner Hall, Chemistry/Physics Building, building 61, room 117, on California Avenue, two blocks south of Hempstead Turnpike, 1:15 p.m. Dates Group conducts stargazing at Hofstra University after meetings (Oct.-Dec., Feb.-May, 8 p.m.), various dates at the Nature Center at Jones Beach State Park, West End, and Sagamore Hill National Historic Site, and clear Saturday nights at the Susan Rose Observatory in Southold on the grounds of the Custer Institute. All stargazing is weather permitting. Astronomy Day in April at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City.

CUSTER OBSERVATORY, 1115 Main Bayview Rd., off Route 25, Southold, 631-765-2626, custerobservatory.org, open to the public every Saturday from 7 p.m.-midnight. “Long Island’s oldest public observatory.” Volunteers will give you a tour of the facilities and the night sky through powerful telescopes. Portable planetarium shows, lectures, classes, concerts, gift shop, and art exhibits. Fee $5 suggested donation, $3 children; membership available.

HOFSTRA UNIVERSITY OBSERVATORY, Herman A. Berliner Hall, the Chemistry and Physics Building, fourth floor, California Avenue and Huntington Place, Uniondale, hofstra.edu/astronomy. Special event Oct. 11, 7:30-10 p.m. Sagamore Hill National Historic Monument, Oyster Bay. Stars on Sunday is open to the public 7-9 p.m. Oct. 6, March 1; 6-8 p.m. Nov. 3, Dec. 8, Feb. 2; 8-10 p.m. April 5. Program begins with presentation about the sky in room 117. Free registration is required. Attendance limited to 150. Reservation can be made on the website.

MONTAUK OBSERVATORY (AKA HAMPTONS OBSERVATORY), 20 Goodfriend Dr., East Hampton, on the campus of The Ross School, montaukobservatory.com. Check website for viewing dates and access, as well as for frequent lectures, stargazing events and portable planetarium shows throughout the towns of the East End. Fee Free, donations appreciated.

MOUNT STONY BROOK OBSERVATORY AT STONY BROOK UNIVERSITY, Room 001, ESS Building, 100 Nicolls Rd., Stony Brook, 631-632-9464, nwsdy.li/sunysbastro. The observatory is a 14-inch rooftop telescope used for research and teaching. Astronomy open nights start at 7:30 every Friday with a lecture, followed by observing (weather permitting). No event the day after Thanksgiving. Programs offered Sept.-Dec. and Feb.-May.

VANDERBILT MUSEUM AND PLANETARIUM, 180 Little Neck Rd., Centerport, 631-854-5579, vanderbiltmuseum.org. Fee $8, $7 ages 62 and older and students with ID, $5 ages 12 and younger; free year-round observatory viewing on Friday nights 9-10 p.m. (weather permitting).

Dates to Remember:

October

October 8th, Draconids Meteor Shower - The Draconids are a meteor shower that occurs annually and comes from the remnants of the comet 21P/Giacobini-Zinner. Although considered a minor meteor shower, the Draconids produced one of the most spectacular displays in recent history when it was visible in 2011. That year, a meteor outburst occurred, sending thousands of meteors shooting through the sky. At its peak on October 8th of this year, however, you will be able to see only up to 10 meteors per hour. Catch the radiant within the Draco constellation and see the most meteors early in the evening.

October 13th, Hunter’s Full Moon - October’s Full Moon is called the Hunter’s Moon to traditionally signify the hunting season in North America. In October, the game is fat and ready to hunt, allowing early North American people to gather meat to prepare for the winter. For astronomers, the Full Moon is a great time to hunt down craters or other surface features of the Moon because it will be at its fullest.

October 19th, Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation - When Mercury is at Greatest Eastern Elongation, the planet can be seen just above the western horizon. Although it will appear low in the sky just after sunset, Mercury will be at its highest point in the sky, making it a great time to see this elusive planet.

October 21st, Orionids Meteor Shower - The Orionids will peak this year on the night of October 21st until October 22nd. The meteors from this shower come from the comet Halley and are usually pretty bright, so you should have great views of up to 20 meteors per hour. Although the radiant is within the constellation Orion, it is possible to see meteors traversing anywhere through the night sky.

October 27th, New Moon - October 27th’s New Moon means the Moon will not show up in the night sky. The absence of light from the Moon makes this an excellent time to capture photos or observe deep-sky objects. A New Moon occurs almost every month, so you have another opportunity to take advantage of a New Moon in about 29.26 days.

October 28th, Uranus Opposition - October 28th is the best time to view Uranus with a telescope because it will be at its closest to Earth for this year. A planetary opposition is a point in a planet’s orbit when it is aligned with Earth and the Sun. Therefore, it’s on the opposite side of the solar system from the Sun, as the name suggests. To view Uranus, you will need a sizeable telescope and good viewing conditions because it is one of the faintest planets in our solar system. Look for Uranus south of constellation Aries.

November

November 5th, South Taurid Meteor Shower - The Southern Taurids is a quieter meteor shower, producing only up to 10 meteors per hour. This is the first of two streams that create the Taurid Meteor Shower. The South Taurid is made of dust and pebbles from Comet Encke. These weightier pebbles are known for burning up into colorful fireballs, creating a spectacle of lights in the sky. With minimal moonlight from the crescent Moon, the South Taurids could be an excellent opportunity to see some of these rare fireballs! Other than the peak on November 5th, you will be able to see the South Taurid meteor shower anywhere in the sky in the weeks before and after November 5th. The Taurids have a radiant near the constellation Taurus, where the shower gets its name from.

November 11th, Mercury Inferior Solar Conjunction - Catch Mercury traversing across the Sun during this rare planetary transit. On November 11th, we will see Mercury’s small dark sphere traverse its way across the face of the Sun during this truly unique solar event. The transit of Mercury will be the highlight of this winter because planetary transits occur much less often than oppositions or solar eclipses. The eastern portion of North America and all of South America will be able to catch the transit of Mercury in its entirety on the morning of November 11th from about 7:36 a.m. to 1:03 p.m. When viewing this spectacular solar event, be sure to use equipment that will keep your eyes safe from sun damage. A solar telescope or filter will give you your best views (Mercury will just be a tiny dot on the Sun), but however you view this event, make sure you protect your eyes! We will not see another transit of Mercury until 2039, so don’t miss out!

November 12th, Beaver Full Moon - The night of November 12th marks the Beaver Moon. November is known by this name because beavers build their winter dams at this time. While we may not see the beavers out this night, the November Full Moon is a good chance to observe our own Moon in all of its splendor.

November 12th, North Taurid Meteor Shower - The second portion of the Taurids Meteor Shower peaks on November 12th, giving us another opportunity to see its colorful fireballs shoot through the sky. The North Taurid Meteor Shower is made of debris from 2004 TG10, an eccentric asteroid that was only first observed in 2004. November 12th promises to be an even better peak than its other Taurid counterpart because both the South and North Taurid showers will be active on this night. This means we will have a better chance of seeing more meteors. Even in the weeks before or after November 12th, you may still see remnants of the North Taurid.

November 18th, Leonids Meteor Shower - Three meteors showers in one month?! Wow! By the time the Leonids peak on the night of November 18th, there may still be remnants of the Taurids, making it more likely that we will see meteors and fireballs in the sky. With a radiant located in Leo, meteors can be seen dashing away from this constellation, creating long meteor trails. We recommend observing the shower 30° - 40° away from the radiant to see these beautiful trails.

November 24th, Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter - Witness Venus and Jupiter neck and neck in the night sky on November 24th! Just after sunset, you will see these two planets right next to each other in the western sky. This makes for some cool photos and a fun viewing experience.

November 26th, New Moon - The Moon will not be visible in the night sky on November 26th. This makes November 26th a great night to break out your telescope to view or image faint celestial objects such as star clusters, galaxies, and nebulae.

November 28th, Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation - When at Greatest Elongation, Mercury will be the highest in the sky that it will get during its orbit around the Sun. Since Mercury usually hovers around the horizon, this will be the best chance to see it or capture an image of the planet. Mercury will be visible just above the eastern horizon about 20.1° from the Sun right before sunrise.

December

December 12th, Cold Full Moon - Winter is cold in many parts of North America! That is why December’s Full Moon is called the Cold Moon. In fact, December is often seen as the coldest month of the year, bringing snow, sleet, and ice along with it. For astronomers, this may pose a challenge to get to dark sky locations. Maybe it’s time for some backyard observations of the Full Moon. This is also the last Full Moon of 2019.

December 14th, Geminids Meteor Shower - The Geminids are the holy grail of all meteor showers. Known to produce up to 120 colorful meteors at its peak, this shower is beloved by astronomers for its spectacle of colors sent soaring through the sky. The Geminids are named after the constellation Gemini, where you will find the radiant of this shower. The Geminids are derived from debris broken off from the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. Although there will be significant moonlight this year, the Geminids produce such bright and numerous meteors that it’s still worth getting outside to take a look.

December 21st, Winter Solstice - The shortest day of 2019 for the Northern Hemisphere will be on December 21st as winter officially begins. This also makes it the longest night of the year, so if there is minimal cloud coverage, it could be a great night to capture plenty of deep-space images. You will have lots of time this night to get all of your astronomy observations in before dawn.

December 22nd, Ursids Meteor Shower - This minor meteor shower is often overshadowed by flashier showers, but the Ursids may be just as interesting to watch. Minimal moonlight is expected, so you will be able to see up to 10 meteors per hour at its peak on December 22nd. The radiant is within the Ursa Minor constellation, but meteors can be seen anywhere in the sky shooting away from this location.

December 26th, New Moon - The final New Moon of 2019 will take place on December 26th. The New Moon is a great time to grab your telescope and see some of the faintest celestial objects out there because there is no moonlight interference.

December 26th, Annular Solar Eclipse - The Annular Solar Eclipse on December 26th is unlike any other eclipse that we will experience this year. This special partial eclipse occurs when the Moon passes in front of the Sun but does not block out its outer edges. Depending on your location, the annular eclipse begins at 02:29:53 UTC, and the Moon will slowly move in front of the Sun, making the sky darker and darker, until only the outermost edges of the Sun are visible. During this time, at about 05:17:46 UTC, the Sun will look like a bright, fiery ring against a dark sky. As the Moon moves away from the Sun, the sky will grow brighter until daytime is restored. . This unique solar eclipse will be completely visible in parts of Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates, India, Sri Lanka, and Malaysia; although a partial eclipse can be seen from much of the Middle East and South Asia. Like all solar events, make sure to wear proper eye protection when viewing the Annular Solar Eclipse.

January

January 3, 4 - Quadrantids Meteor Shower. The Quadrantids is an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at its peak. It is thought to be produced by dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. The shower runs annually from January 1-5. It peaks this year on the night of the 3rd and morning of the 4th. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for what could be a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Bootes, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

January 10 - Full Moon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 19:23 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Wolf Moon because this was the time of year when hungry wolf packs howled outside their camps. This moon has also been know as the Old Moon and the Moon After Yule.

January 10 - Penumbral Lunar Eclipse. A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon passes through the Earth’s partial shadow, or penumbra. During this type of eclipse the Moon will darken slightly but not completely. The eclipse will be visible throughout most of Europe, Africa, Asia, the Indian Ocean, and Western Australia. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)

January 24 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 21:44 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

February

February 9 - Full Moon, Supermoon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 07:34 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Snow Moon because the heaviest snows usually fell during this time of the year. Since hunting is difficult, this moon has also been known by some tribes as the Full Hunger Moon, since the harsh weather made hunting difficult. This is also the first of four supermoons for 2020. The Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

February 10 - Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation. The planet Mercury reaches greatest eastern elongation of 18.2 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the planet low in the western sky just after sunset.

February 23 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 15:33 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

March

March 9 - Full Moon, Supermoon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 17:48 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Worm Moon because this was the time of year when the ground would begin to soften and the earthworms would reappear. This moon has also been known as the Full Crow Moon, the Full Crust Moon, the Full Sap Moon, and the Lenten Moon. This is also the second of four supermoons for 2020. The Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

March 20 - March Equinox. The March equinox occurs at 03:50 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere.

March 24 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 09:29 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

March 24 - Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation. The planet Mercury reaches greatest western elongation of 27.8 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.

March 24 - Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation. The planet Venus reaches greatest eastern elongation of 46.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Venus since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the bright planet in the western sky after sunset.

April

April 8 - Full Moon, Supermoon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 02:35 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Pink Moon because it marked the appearance of the moss pink, or wild ground phlox, which is one of the first spring flowers. This moon has also been known as the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Growing Moon, and the Egg Moon. Many coastal tribes called it the Full Fish Moon because this was the time that the shad swam upstream to spawn. This is also the third of four supermoons for 2020. The Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

April 22, 23 - Lyrids Meteor Shower. The Lyrids is an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in 1861. The shower runs annually from April 16-25. It peaks this year on the night of the night of the 22nd and morning of the 23rd. These meteors can sometimes produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The nearly new moon will ensure dark skies for what should be a good show this year. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Lyra, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

April 23 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 02:27 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

May

May 6, 7 - Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarids is an above average shower, capable of producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. Most of the activity is seen in the Southern Hemisphere. In the Northern Hemisphere, the rate can reach about 30 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust particles left behind by comet Halley, which has known and observed since ancient times. The shower runs annually from April 19 to May 28. It peaks this year on the night of May 6 and the morning of the May 7. The nearly full moon will be a problem this year, blocking out all but the brightest meteors. But if you are patient, you should still should be able to catch a few good ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

May 7 - Full Moon, Supermoon. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at 10:45 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. This moon has also been known as the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon. This is also the last of four supermoons for 2020. The Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

May 22 - New Moon. The Moon will located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This phase occurs at 17:39 UTC. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

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