The secrets of summer observing

What astronomy can you do during the summer, as the days get longer and the nights shorter?

Summer months shouldn't mean the end of observing! Longer days mean it's a good time for a spot of solar observing. Reader Jason Durrant send us this image of the Sun captured in March 2017. Remember never to observe the Sun without the use of specialist equipment. Image Credit: Jason Durrant
Published: May 23, 2018 at 12:00 pm
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When I were a lad…


OK, when I first started out on this grand adventure called astronomy, it seemed to me the consensus was that for many in the UK, the light summer nights meant little or no observing.

This was the time to tidy up the observatory, dismantle and check, renovate or clean as much of your equipment as you could then get it all back together ready for the return of longer nights.

In my former life working in retail, I used to annoy my colleagues as they longed for summer holidays and instead I would be looking cheerfully towards the darker months.

Perhaps I should really be a vampire or a bat, I wonder at times!

It is certainly a great idea to check over your equipment to keep it in tip-top condition, but for me this should be an ongoing task throughout the year.

Why wait for all the troubles to potentially pile up and then discover them during what could (we always hope) be long warm summer days when you should be out at the beach, walking in the hills and mountains and generally enjoying yourself?

So, I tinker with my equipment all year round. It makes sense to me to be on top of things and deal with problems as they arise, or even keeping the optics clean as I go along rather than wait for it to get worse.

The other aspect of this ‘summer hiatus’ due to the light nights is that it’s a fallacy to think you can’t do any observing or imaging.

There is viewing of the Sun with safe solar filters, the Moon is still about and always a good target to show off to family and friends, and also any bright planets, which at the moment includes Jupiter, Saturn and Mars.

You don’t need dark skies to get the best from them.

Venus and Mercury are also good targets during June and are best seen in daylight, so it's a good chance to brush up on how to find them without using stars to help.

But don’t give up on deep-sky targets either.

I enjoy seeking out the summer double and multiple stars, bright variables, globular clusters and many summer open clusters whilst also picking out a few of the brighter nebulae.

And don’t forget noctilucent clouds - keep your eyes peeled for them towards the north!


As our reviewers slave away testing out the latest astronomy equipment this summer, keep up to date with BBC Sky at Night Magazine, packed with all you need to know about the summer skies and how to make the most of them.


Paul Money is an experienced astronomer, BBC Sky at Night Magazine's Reviews Editor and author of the annual stargazing guide Nightscenes.


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