Hands down, the best place to view the stars in Charlotte is the Gayle H. Riggsbee Observatory, home to Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club and the Ken Steiner Astronomy Outreach Center. The group hosts stargazing parties throughout the year for members and their guests, and they also hold stargazing public events at sites including Fisher Farms in nearby Davidson. Jim Gaiser, the president of the Charlotte Amateur Astronomers Club, or CAAC, says that Fisher Farm is the best place for naked-eye viewing, and also recommends that folks go past Gastonia to the west or below Mathews to get the clearest skies.
However, due to Charlotte’s massive size (16th-largest in America), the city lights can make it challenging to see the night sky clearly from downtown, but you can certainly try to enjoy the evening sites from one of Charlotte’s rooftop bars such as City Lights Rooftop, Rooftop 210, or Peculiar Rabbit.
Here are the dates that some of the major 2018 skywatching events will be hitting the Charlotte sky:
A Blue Moon hit the skies in January and the final blue moon of 2018 happens on March 31.
On April 23-23, the Lyrids meteor shower will bring around 20 meteors per hour to the Charlotte area. Stay up past midnight to see these at their brightest once the moon sets.
Be sure to mark your calendar for May 6-7 to see 30+ meteors per hour surrounding Aquarius.
2018 should make for extra dark skies this year to view the annual Perseids shower, which is already known as one of the brightest showers each year. These will be most visible in Charlotte from August 12-13, with between 60-100 meteors coming down per hour.
The Perseid meteor shower is caused by debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle as it swings through the inner solar system and ejects a trail of dust and gravel along its orbit. When the Earth passes through the debris, specs of comet-stuff hit the atmosphere at 140,000 mph and disintegrate in flashes of light. Meteors from this comet are called Perseids because they seem to fly out of the constellation Perseus. Last year, this meteor shower peaked during a bright “supermoon”, so visibility was reduced. Luckily, this year, the show was especially awesome because the Moon is nearly new when the shower peaked on Aug. 12-13, 2015. In this 30 second exposure, a meteor streaks across the sky during the annual Perseid meteor shower Aug. 13, 2015, in Spruce Knob, West Virginia. Photo Credit: NASA/Bill Ingalls #perseids #meteorshower #nasa #space #sky #nightsky #perseid #meteors #stars
This shower runs all month long, but will be best visible in Charlotte from November 17-18. Since these meteors move so fast, be on the lookout for fireballs since they’re more likely at these speeds of 40+ miles per hour.
The best meteor shower of the year is usually the Geminid shower that will happen between December 7-17 and most visible from Charlotte on December 13-14. Early morning hours will create the best circumstances, but anytime after the moon sets after midnight should make for good viewing conditions.
Charlotteans will have the most chances to see planet Mercury this year, with five dates being the best times to view our solar system’s tiniest planet: March 15, July 12, August 26, November 6, and December 15. As for the rest of the year, look out for Jupiter May 9, Saturn June 27 and Mars July 27. In the fall, Venus will be most visible on August 17, Neptune on September 7, and on October 23, Uranus will be easiest to see.