A quick look at the sky in 2024

As we are now into 2024 we thought it would be interesting to give you a quick summary of the year ahead in our sky.


Equinoxes and Solstices

The Earth’s seasons change on four specific days each year. We have two solstices where the Sun appears to be at its lowest and highest points in the sky in December and June respectively, and two equinoxes where the length of day and night are similar in April and September. The equinox and solstice dates for 2024 are:

  • March 20 - Spring Equinox: Occurs at 03:06 UTC and is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere (autumnal equinox).
  • June 20 - Summer Solstice: Will take place at 20:51 UTC and is the first day of summer for us in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • September 22 - Autumnal Equinox: at 12:44 UTC is the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere.
  • December 21 - Winter Solstice: occurs at 09:21 UTC. For us in the northern hemisphere it is the first day of winter and the first day of summer (summer solstice) for those in the Southern Hemisphere.


Meteor shower displays and wide field phenomena

Noctilucent Clouds with Comet Neowise (center) as seen from Mammendorf. Image taken with a tripod mounted Canon 6D DSLR and lens at focal length120mm with 0,8 sec exposure Canon 6D at ISO 1600, © Michael Risch

There are numerous “wide field” phenomena/events, such as the aurora during dark skies in wintertime, noctilucent clouds seen typically between end of May and beginning of August and many meteor showers that take place throughout the year that are worth looking out for. These are always fun to watch – with the surprise element being that we don’t exactly know how “active” a display will be. They certainly keep us on the edge of our seat…or comfy recliner!

You don’t need any special astronomy equipment such as a telescope or binocular to view these displays - you just need your eyes! However, its a good idea to have chair to sit on or a recliner/sun lounger so you can lie back to see a lot of the sky comfortably as you may be outside for a long while (especially for the meteor showers)! It can also be cold so you could also get yourself under a duvet or inside sleeping bag to keep warm – just don’t get too comfy though and fall asleep and miss the event happening above you! For meteor showers you can find out more in Celestron’s guide to observing meteor showers.

If you want to take photographs of a display and to try and capture meteors as they streak across the sky, a camera set on a long(ish) exposure with a wide angle or standard lens, mounted on a sturdy tripod such as the Astro & Nature Photo Tripod w. Fluid Head and quick mounting plateAstro & Nature Photo Tripod w. Fluid Head and quick mounting plate Astro & Nature Photo Tripod w. Fluid Head and quick mounting plate (#2451020, € 235,-) is all you need (a remote shutter release may be useful too). For more details on imaging meteor showers a good introductory guide can be found here.

Below are the dates for the peak of the main meteor showers for 2024:

  • January 3,4: Quadrantids. Shower with up to 40 meteors per hour, but a waning gibbous may make fainter meteors less visible.
  • April 22, 23: Lyrids. The full Moon will interfere this shower affecting the visibility of fainter meteors.
  • May 6,7: Eta Aquarids. An active shower and nearly new moon will allow for fainter meteors to be seen.
  • August 12, 13:  Perseids. A popular shower in early autumn. This year a first quarter moon means some fainter meteors may be harder to see. However with the Moon setting after midnight, the rest of the night will have dark skies allowing for fainter ones to be seen.
  • October 7: Draconids. This is a minor shower (about 10 meteors per hour) and the moon will be near first quarter so will not significantly interfere.
  • October 21, 22: Orionids. This popular and well observed meteor shower is produced by dust left behind by the famous Halley’s comet. The waning gibbous Moon will affect visibility of fainter meteors in the latter part of the night.
  • November 17, 18: Leonids. A near full Moon will mean a bright sky and only the brighter meteors will be visible.
  • December 13, 14: Geminids. This meteor shower is often considered to be the king of the meteor showers. However this year a near full Moon means only the brighter ones will be visible.

For more details on meteor showers in 2024 see e.g. American Meteor Society Meteor Shower Calendar.


Comets

Currently a few comets are worth keeping an eye on as they may become bright enough for binocular (e.g. Celestron SkyMaster 20x80) or small telescope (e.g. Celestron NexStar 130 SLT) observation with two possibly becoming naked-eye comets. If the comets develop long tails often a wide field telescope such as the Guidescope rings not includedBAADER APO 95/580 CaF2 Travel Companion BAADER APO 95/580 CaF2 Travel Companion (#2300095, € 4495,-) or Celestron 8” RASA astrograph are ideal to capture as much of the comet as possible.

The new C2 Swan-Band Filter (15nm ) – O-III parallel (various versions available) which allows only light from the two brightest carbon bands (511nm & 514nm) to pass through allowing structures in the gas tail to become more noticeable may be a useful filter accessory to have at hand.

  • 62P/Tsuchinshan: reached perihelion on December 25 2023 and is closest to Earth on January 29 when it is expected to be mag ~9.5so will be a binocular/telescope object.
  • 144P/Kushida: This may become visible in medium/large binoculars based on some predictions but many predict it to be faint.
  • C/2021 S3 PanSTARRS: Visible in the northern hemisphere after perihelion on February 14 2024 the comet may become a ~7 magnitude object and visible in binoculars.
  • Comet 12P/Pons–Brooks: Reaches perihelion on 21st April 2024 low in the western sky below the Hyades in Taurus and not far from Jupiter where it could be ~4.2 magnitude. This is one to really keep an eye on  You can read more about this comet in our recent article.
  • C/2023 A3 Tsuchinshan–ATLAS: Perihelion on 27 September and is best seen in the October early evening western sky where it may possibly be a naked-eye object.


More details about comets, including their brightness and position in the night sky, can be found on the SkyLive website here.


The Moon

The Moon is a fantastic celestial target for beginners and well-seasoned astronomers of any age and experience. It will continue to make its appearance in our night sky through 2024 where it will present its regular waxing and waning phases.

Binoculars such as the popular Celestron 15x70 SkyMaster, which have 15x magnification and 70mm aperture objective, are still relatively light-weight to be hand held, will show many surface features in detail compared to the naked eye. Even through a small starter telescope the Lunar views are impressive with many craters, mountain ranges and “seas” being easily visible.

The Moon’s brightness can be overpowering especially around the time of full Moon which can mean observing it through a telescope can be uncomfortable. The use of Baader Neutral Density Filter (ND 0,6 / 0,9 / 1,8 / 3,0)Baader Neutral Density Filter (ND 0,6 / 0,9 / 1,8 / 3,0) Baader Neutral Density Filter (ND 0,6 / 0,9 / 1,8 / 3,0) (various versions available) can help cut down the brightness and make observing the Moon more comfortable. Another useful accessory that can help is a Baader Double Polarizing FilterBaader Double Polarizing Filter Baader Double Polarizing Filter (various versions available)  which can vary the amount of light entering the eyepiece from 40% down to 1% (ideal for when the Moon is at its brightest) by simply rotating filter barrel. Although these filters are primarly used in telescope eyepieces, Celestron’s new SkyMaster Pro 7x50, 15x70 and 20x80 ED binoculars have a filter thread on each ocular eyepieces to accept 1.25” filters - a unique feature!

The popular time for observing the Moon is around the times of waxing crescent to first quarter and from third quarter to waning crescent when shadows are cast and the Moon is not at its brightest (and not at or around its full phase as the Moon, Earth and Sun are in line so very little shadows are cast meaning Lunar detail is not as contrasty (and the Moon is very bright too)).

Here are a small selection of Lunar features to observe:

  • Craters: Copernicus, Tycho, Plato, Gassendi, Aristarchus
  • Mares (seas):  Crisium, Nectaris, Tranquillitatus, Frigoris, Imbrium
  • Other features: Vallis Alpes, Rupes Recta, Lunar Appenines, Hadley Rille

Now the fun part is to find out where the above features are on the Moon and go and observe them through your telescope or binoculars for yourself!

The dates for the main phases of the Moon can be found here for the city of Munich for the year ahead.


The Planets

To see or image a planet in any detail you need a telescope. Celestron offer a very wide range to suit all budgets from manually operated to app-enabled and fully computerized/GoTo instruments. For planetary (and Lunar observers), a refractor, Maksutov Cassegrain or Schmidt Cassegrain optical design are popular choices which are available on different types of mount. Given the large choice of telescopes, if planetary study is of interest to you and if you need any advice on what to choose, contact one of our helpful authorised Celestron dealers or ourselves. Our recent article about which telescope apertures are best for different celestial objects should be useful too.

For planetary and lunar observing Baader Planetarium offer their Classic Ortho and Plossl eyepieces and 1.3x/2.25x barlow. The Ortho eyepieces are available in focal lengths of

These high-quality eyepieces have a 52° apparent field of view (50° for the Plossl), and are parfocal meaning little or no refocussing being necessary when swapping to a different Classic Ortho/Plossl eyepiece. To further increase the magnification of these eyepieces the unique Baader Q-Barlow 1.3x/ 2.25x (#2956185 , € 55,-) can be used.

A really useful accessory to go alongside these is the Q-Turret 4x Eyepiece revolver (#2957010 , € 55,-) which allows you to quickly and easily change between eyepieces (and magnification) by simply rotating the turret rather than having to keep removing and replacing the different eyepieces in the telescope focuser. The Q-turret is also available with the Classic Ortho/Plossl as a complete package ( Baader Q-Turret Eyepiece Set (eyepiece revolver, 3x Classic Ortho, 1x Classic Plössl, 1x Q-Barlow 2.25x) (#2957000 , € 280,-) ).

Colored filters can be beneficial for planetary observing. They can help increase the contrast of planetary features through selective filtration. For example, a red filter can be ideal to help observe features on the red Martian surface and the use of a yellow filter can help enhance cloud bands on Jupiter and Saturn. The Baader Color Filter-Set Moon and Planetary (6 colors)Baader Color Filter-Set Moon and Planetary (6 colors) Baader Color Filter-Set Moon and Planetary (6 colors) (various versions available) have a double 7-layer anti-reflection coating and are planeoptically polished so that they do not impair the image quality even at the high magnifications required for planetary observation. The filters (blue, light blue, green, yellow, red, orange) are available individually or as a set in 1.25" and 2" sizes.

A useful guide for observing the planets (and Moon) with filters can be found in Celestron’s “What are the different types of eyepiece filters: Colored, Neutral Density and Polarizing?” article, or on the  Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) website.

For those interested in studying the planets the following information about their visibility may be of interest. The second half of 2024 offers the best time to view the planets in our solar system.

Saturn through a Celestron 11" SCT around time of opposition at high magnification in order to show how the planet's rings appeared in 2023 (L), 2024 (M) and how they will appear in 2025 (R). By 2025 the rings will be edge-on.
  • Mercury: The innermost planet of our solar system can be difficult to see being so close to the Sun in the sky. The best time to try and view Mercury are the days around its Greatest Western or Greatest Eastern Elongation (our monthly sky guide will highlight favourable dates too). For 2024 the dates for these are:
    • Greatest Western Elongation: Jan 12, May 9, Sep 5, Dec 25 - low in the eastern sky before sunrise
    • Greatest Eastern Elongation: March 24, July 22, November 16 - low in the western sky after sunset
  • Venus: At the start of the year it is a morning object but gets closer to our Sun in the sky for the first couple of months. It is badly placed from March to August when it will then set around 45 minutes after sunset. From September its visibility improves and by December will set just over 3 hours after sunset.
  • Mars: The red planet is not well placed until late June/early July when it rises a couple of hours before the Sun. By November it will be well placed for observing or imaging and reaches opposition in January 2025.
  • Jupiter: At the beginning of 2024 Jupiter dominates the evening sky after sunset until just after midnight. By late March it will be low in the west after sunset. From April until July when it becomes a morning object with improving visibility as the months go by reaching opposition on December 7 and will be visible all night long.
  • Saturn: Saturn starts the year being an evening object but low in the west after sunset and better observed from August onwards. The planet is at opposition on September 8th and visible all night. It will be around 34 degrees above the (Munich) horizon when it crosses the meridian around midnight so is nicely placed for observing or imaging. It is also worth noting that the planet’s famous ring system will be more “closed” than in 2023 with them being edge-on in 2025.
  • Uranus: This planet is visible in the early part of 2024 until around late March. It will become better suited for observation from late August onwards and reaches opposition on 17 November.
  • Neptune: This outer planet will be best seen from around late July onwards where it reaches opposition on 21 September.


The Sun

Our Sun continues on its journey ever closer towards Solar maximum in 2025.  So far this we have had some very nice large sunspots and sunspot groups as well as some very nice prominences so the lead up to maximum looks exciting. There has also been some amazing auroral displays during 2023 with some visible in Germany.

It is always important to mention that when viewing or imaging the Sun requires extreme care and the use of proper, safe solar filters. If you have any concerns or questions about safely observing or imaging our Sun please contact one of our authorized Baader Planetarium dealers or ourselves.

For white-light Solar views (a popular way of studying the Sun), you can observe the dark sunspots, faculae and solar granulation. Baader Planetarium offer their AstroSolar film so you can make your own Solar filter. Alternatively, there are ready-made AstroSolar filters which use their AstroSolar film but fitted in a specially designed robust metal housing for fitment onto small camera lenses, binoculars, spotting scopes and telescopes. A new model of the ever popular Baader 2" Cool-Ceramic Safety Herschel Prism Mark II – (Visual / Photo)Baader 2" Cool-Ceramic Safety Herschel Prism Mark II – (Visual / Photo) Baader 2" Cool-Ceramic Safety Herschel Prism Mark II – (Visual / Photo) (various versions available) , to be used on refracting telescopes, was released in 2023 with features including a shorter overall length and integrated rotation mechanism for polarising filters for easy image brightness adjustment.

You can find more about the Baader whitelight (and H-alpha and CaK) solar products here.

To find the latest views of our Sun and how active it is, a really good resource is the GONG near-real time data website which displays images of the Sun from a number of Solar observatories around the world in different wavelengths.

Solar and Lunar eclipses

The Solar and Lunar eclipses that take place this year are listed below. If you are travelling to see a Solar eclipse please always take appropriate safety precautions when observing or imaging the Sun. A popular accessory for safely watching a solar eclipse are the "wearable" Solar Viewer AstroSolar® Silver/Gold (#2459294 , € € 4.50) which reduce the sun light intensity by 99,999% and also give 100% UV- and IR-protection. If you have any concerns or questions about safely observing or imaging these events please contact one of our authorized Baader Planetarium dealers or ourselves.

  • March 25 - Penumbral Lunar Eclipse visible throughout Asia, Australia and parts of eastern Europe. However, with this type of eclipse, the Moon will darken just slightly.
  • April 8 - Total Solar Eclipse. The path of totality will begin in the Pacific Ocean with it being observable in parts of central Texas up to Indiana and into Maine. This will be a popular celestial event with many people from all parts of the world converging along the line of totality to experience this total solar eclipse.
  • September 18 - Partial Lunar Eclipse taking place during the early morning throughout most of Europe and Africa and visible from Germany. See here for more information.
  • October 2 – Annular Solar eclipse. The annular eclipse visible in southern Chile and Argentina.

A detailed guide to eclipses visible in 2024 and beyond can be found on the Time and Date website.

If you need help selecting, using or have any questions about a Baader Planetarium accessory, please contact one of our authorized Baader Planetarium dealers or ourselves who will be happy to answer your questions.


About the author: Lee Sproats

Lee Sproats

Dr. Lee Sproats has been interested in astronomy since watching Star Wars in 1977 and has appeared on the UK Sky at Night TV programme. He then went on to study Astronomy where he obtained a degree and then a PhD in the subject at University College London/Mullard Space Science Laboratory. He has worked in Australia in radio astronomy and used optical/infrared telescopes on Hawaii and La Palma and Lowell and Kitt Peak observatories in the USA. After working for the University of Surrey to promote the use of computers for teaching in UK higher education and then as an IT trainer for a stock market company, he went on to work for Greenwich Observatory Ltd where he ran their northern branch and then worked for David Hinds Ltd dealing with our and Celestron products. He is often involved in flight excursions that take passengers to observe the northern lights, has led trips to see the great USA 2017 eclipse near Hopkinsville and was lead astronomer onboard a specially chartered 737 to view the 2015 total solar eclipse at 38,000ft. Lee`s astronomical interests include Lunar observing, astrophotography, photometry and pro-am collaborations.

Since David Hinds stopped operation in December 2020, Dr. Sproats works for Baader Planetarium as our UK representative/consultant and is responsible for looking after our UK/Eire dealers, dealing with Baader Planetarium/PlaneWave/10Micron product support, writing articles and also is involved in our large telescope and observatory instrumentation projects.


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