The Best Time of the Year to Use a Telescope
There are a couple of things to think about when it comes to using a telescope during the day, night, or at a certain time in the year. If you have your eyes set on a certain plane or constellation then you may have to plan it out. Due to weather conditions and other factors, what you want to see may not always be in clear view. Here are some examples below of the best time of the year to view some of the more popular objects in the sky.
The Moon is the most popular to view with any telescope since we can also see it with our eyes. Although you can view the Moon with a telescope whenever you want, the most optimal time to view the Moon changes yearly. This is because you don’t want to view the Moon at full phase, despite popular belief. At or past its first quarter phase, or the same with its last Quarter phase is the best time to catch the most details out of the Moon. In order to catch these phases correctly you’ll need a Moon Map or similar accessory that comes with your telescope, or you can always opt for a smartphone app or the internet.
Mercury is a hard find even with the most powerful telescope, so chances to spot the planet are few despite its brightness. But curious astronomers can always catch Mercury at any time of the year provided that they wait 30 minutes from sunset or sunrise. But there is a little more to it than that, as you have to be in the low western horizon to really get a good glimpse. For a planet that close to the sun seeing it for the first time can be a remarkable experience.
Another planet that is close comrades with the sun is Venus, which is just as hard to spot as Mercury. Summer time is the absolute best time to catch the planet with October being the last month to get a good glimpse. At this point the sun takes over again and you’ll have to wait an entire year to witness the spectacle again. It’s pretty unnerving so make sure you don’t miss it the first time, or you’ll regret it.
Around March is the best time to see the red planet in all of its glory, as Mars can be seen with a lot of detail if you are positioned correctly. The most fun thing to witness with Mars besides its color are the highly toxic clouds. Good conditions are recommended, so if you end up being in a windy area or having high humidity then it may not work out well for you. By taking your telescope and prepping it an hour before viewing, humidity can be fought to a certain degree. It’ll take a little practice but the window is big enough in March that you’ll get plenty of times to adjust.
Jupiter is a hard one to nail down, and it is year dependent. It can easily range from August to December so checking your personal calendar or an online calendar will yield the best results. However it is worth the small amount of preparation, since besides the Moon Jupiter yields the most details in low powered telescopes. One of the largest planets in the galaxy is a favorite for a reason, and if you want to get an eyeful of some intergalactic objects then your first or second stop should be Jupiter. Onlookers will be treated to its extra Moons, clouds and medium sized craters.
Saturn is easy to spot at any time of the year, but for optimal viewing of its rings and other materials you’ll want to schedule a June visit. Much like the changing calendar, this is dependent on it being opposite the sun. At this point it is at its best to view, which means it could potentially slip into July depending on the year. Try not to miss this one as Saturn is very pleasing to the eye for both new and old telescope owners.
As one of the more under appreciated planets, Uranus is part of an elite group that can be seen without a telescope. So imagine how much you can see with one! During the late part of the year in October and onward you can view the planet in its full form unaltered by the presence of the Moon. It is harder to spot than others as it is one of the more dimly lit planets in the sky.
There is always a planet, star or object in the galaxy for you to view, so don’t get discouraged. Even if you miss one of the great planets there are still plenty of discoveries waiting for you with a properly setup telescope.