Look to the skies for some spectacular celestial events this year. We aren’t just talking about shooting stars, we’re talking about astrological events, from meteor showers to eclipses. Astronomy nerds won’t want to miss these!
Astronomy Events You Can’t Miss
March 29: Planetary triangle. After sunset, the crescent moon will be close to bright-shining Mars and even-brighter Mercury, making a pretty picture in the sky, according to National Geographic. This is the time when Mercury is highest and brightest.
April 22: Lyrid meteor shower. Thanks to the comet Thatcher, this annual event usually brings ten to 20 meteors an hour – although sometimes the heavens reward us with up to 100 per hour, according to SpaceWeather.com.
August 13: Perseids meteor shower. For many of us, this is our best shot at enjoying a display. In the Sky says it’s one of the biggest in the United States, with as many as 80 flashes per hour. The shower also extends from July 23 to August 20, so we’ve got a bigger window for viewing. However, it will peak in the morning of August 13, after sunrise.
August 21: Total solar eclipse. This rare event, when the moon completely blocks the sun, will travel diagonally across the U.S. from the northwest to the southeast. According to Eclipse.org, when the sun rises that day in Newport, Ore., it will already be eclipsed — extra cool and rare. This is one of those events that people travel hundreds or thousands of miles to experience. In fact, it’s already too late to book a hotel in many cities in the eclipse’s path, so plan now.
October 7: Draconids meteor shower. This is a good one to see in the Northern Hemisphere, the result of the earth passing through the tail of comet 21 P/ Giacobini-Zinner. The Draconids varies from amazing to below-average, depending on where the comet is in its 6.6-year orbit around the sun, according to TimeandDate.com.
October 21: Peak of Orionids meteor shower. This is another event that lasts close to 30 days, with the peak on the twenty-first. These shooting stars are generated by Halley’s Comet according to the Telegraph. Unfortunately, we won’t be able to see the comet itself again until July 28, 2061. Mark your calendar!
November 13: Venus encounters Jupiter. These two bright planets will be in close conjunction around dawn, National Geographic says.
November 17: Leonids meteor shower. Bad winter weather combined with a relatively low amount of shooting stars means this astronomy event is not exactly a must-see. Nevertheless, if you happen to be in a place with clear skies and low levels of light pollution, look up!
December 3: Super moon. A super moon happens when a full moon rises at the same time that it’s closest to the earth. It makes for a large, beautiful moonrise, according to the LA Times. This typically happens once every 14 months – and last year’s was extra-special – but December’s super moon will still be beautiful to behold.
December 13: Geminids meteor shower. It’s a bummer that this happens in the middle of winter, because it’s considered the best meteor shower of the year, says Sky and Telescope. Astronomers predict it will deliver from 100 to 120 meteors per hour.
Marvelous or meh?
There are some caveats to these astronomy events. First, your experience may vary. As Forbes points out, how good the show is depends on several factors: How close the earth is to a comet’s tail in any year determines how many shooting stars you might see. Light pollution is another factor; most urban areas are too bright for meteors to show, so you may need to travel someplace rural to get the best experience. The moon itself can limit our ability to see shooters if it’s high in the sky and especially if it’s full. Then, there’s the weather. Overcast skies – and, of course, rain or snow – will obliterate the show altogether.
If you know your area will be socked in during one of these astronomy events, and you can’t get away to a mountain cabin, cuddle up in front of an internet-connected TV for a webcast. Slooh provides live, high-definition telescope feeds from around the world, and major events include expert commentary.
The best source we’ve found for a super-complete listing of astronomy events – including full moons, lunar eclipses and planetary conjunctions – is Sea and Sky, the creation of J.D. Knight, a guy who just hearts the wonders of the universe. We’d say he’s a good guy to know.