We’ve checked the files, riffled through the records, and scoured the internet and compiled our stargazing highlights for 2024 for you. Read on and find out what’s up!
If you can, escape bright city lights and visit country WA for a better stargazing experience: you’ll be amazed by how many more stars you can see in the night sky. Let’s turn out the lights and look to the skies for the best stargazing in 2024!
January: Nebula Hunting
One of the most amazing sights in the summer southern sky is the Orion Nebula (also known as Messier 42), and because it’s one of the brightest in the sky, you don’t need binoculars or a telescope to see it. To find the nebula, look above the north eastern horizon for the “saucepan” in the sky. Look above the three stars of Orion’s Belt (the base of the “saucepan”) for the faint line of stars that form Orion’s sword (the handle of the “saucepan”). The nebula is halfway along the sword, appearing as a fuzzy-looking star.
February: Watching Mars and the Moon
February brings a conjunction of Mars and the Moon (where the two appear close together in the sky), and it’s best seen without a telescope — good news for all you naked-eye astronomers. The best morning from Perth is 8 February when the pair will be visible from around 4:30am, until an hour or so before the Sun rises around 6am.
March: The spectacular Southern Pleiades
Perth’s March skies bring us the spectacular Southern Pleiades star cluster — otherwise known as the Theta Carinae star cluster. It’s visible all night in Perth, appearing after dusk and reaching its highest point around midnight, before disappearing at around the break of dawn. The Southern Pleiades are best seen under a dark sky and are visible to the naked eye. You’ll appreciate them more through a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
April: The Southern Cross
It is the iconic constellation in our beautiful Southern hemisphere night sky! April is the best time to start watching for the Southern Cross. At this time of year, it is rising in the south east during early evenings. Look for the two “Pointers” which are two stars that seem to point towards the cross.
May: The dawning of the age of the Aquarids
The Southern Hemisphere is the best place to see the eta-Aquarids meteor shower, and this year’s new moon promises dark skies around their peak on 6 May. The meteors are known for being fast, hitting Earth’s atmosphere at around 66 km/s, and leaving glowing trails as they cross the sky. The best time to catch the Eta Aquarids meteors is from around 2am on 6 May when the meteor shower peaks. Look to the east, where the meteors will seem to appear from the constellation of Aquarius.
June: The Moon meets Scorpio
What an early evening sight this will be. Look to the east at about 7pm to find the Moon sitting right under the heart of the constellation of Scorpius. Antares is a giant red star and is often referred to as the heart of the scorpion. Can you see the shape of the scorpion with its claws above and to the left of the Moon? Find the sting in the tail below and to the right.
July: Meteors in the Sky
The Southern delta-Aquarids Meteor Shower coincides with July’s new Moon, peaking on 30 July and likely producing its best displays around 2am AWST. Make the most of it and head out to somewhere with dark skies with a sleeping bag, blanket, or camping chair and you could be lucky spotting some of these faint meteors. Start viewing from midnight and look directly east.
August: The ‘blue’ Sturgeon moon
According to the Farmer’s Almanac (popular in the USA) any full moon during August is known as the ‘Sturgeon moon’, and this year’s full moon falls on 20 August. As it’s also the third full moon in a season, it’s also a ‘blue moon’ by some definitions (although it doesn’t look blue.) Rising at 6.30pm, the moon appears in the constellation of Aquarius and Saturn is the bright star looking object just below!
September: Zodiacal light season
Look west in the hour following twilight, and you might see a cone-shaped pillar of faint light that stretches upward from the horizon: this is Zodiacal light. Zodiacal light is sunlight reflecting off the interplanetary dust cloud that fills the inner solar system out to just past Mars. For best viewing conditions, head to as dark a site as possible because any light pollution or faint glow from distant cities on the horizon will wash out the glow.
October: The Small Magellanic Cloud
The Milky Way’s smaller sibling, the Small Magellanic Cloud, reaches its highest point in the sky at around midnight AWST on 4 October. The galaxy is visible to the naked eye and even better when viewed through a pair of binoculars. Check it out in the southern sky when you’re in a dark sky location.
November: The Moon meets the king of the planets
Look to the eastern horizon after sunset this November, and you’ll be treated to a rare meeting of the Moon, and Jupiter — the king of the planets. On 17 November, the pair will be visible together from soon after the moon rises around 9pm in the constellation of Taurus, and best viewed with the naked eye.
December: Planetary line up
After all the fun and games of Christmas day, it’s time to wind back in the evening, put your feet up and appreciate the incredible night sky that gives us so much throughout the year. If you step outside at 9.45pm, you’ll be wowed with a view of four planets visible to the naked-eye. Mars has just risen in the north east. Jupiter is bright and higher above the north horizon. Then turn to see Saturn about 20 degree above the western horizon and spectacular bright Venus getting ready to set for the night.
… and that’s just the highlights! There’s a whole universe out there, whether you’re a naked-eye observer, favour a trusty pair of binoculars, or don’t need an excuse to take your telescope for some dark sky tourism, there are countless more sights waiting in the skies for you.
Now all you need to do is decide where to go!
Ready for dark skies in country WA?
Our friends at Astrotourism WA have mapped out the best places to go for exceptional stargazing experiences.
Growing up, I had a head full of stories and a burning desire to write them all down. Nothing much has changed: I still love telling stories. I have a passion for stargazing and astronomy, and enjoy any opportunity to share stories or pass on what I know.