(Originally posted 1/6/17 on Read With The Gringa)
Now that the new year is in full swing, it’s time to mark all the significant events that you don’t want to miss. By now you’ve already missed the first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, that happened in the wee hours of January 4th. Later that same day Earth arrived in its closest position throughout its annual orbit round the Sun, called Perihelion, despite the fact that it was cold as the dickens with most Earthlings experiencing their winter seasons. But don’t despair if you missed out. There is so much more to come!
Feb. 10/11 Penumbral Lunar Eclipse: It may seem like a normal full Moon but it’s not. The Moon will be moving through the outermost part of the Earth’s shadow. Because this part of the shadow is so faint, the Sun’s reflection off the Moon is incredibly striking and bright. As the three celestial bodies align, rather than see the Moon blocked out by the Earth’s shadow, the reverse will happen, it will shine brighter. Look at this image and see the difference between an ordinary full moon and the Moon in penumbral eclipse:
Feb. 26 Annular Solar Eclipse: If you live in the geographical swath of Earth that stretches across southern and western Africa, most of South America, and the islands dotting that belt in the Pacific, Atlantic and Indian Oceans, or if you happen to be in Antarctica, you will get to see the very best of this event. Some places, like the gringa’s H-town, won’t be able to see it at all. The eclipse will start around 6am Houston time and take about 5 hours to complete its cycle. However, you can’t just gaze up at the sky to see a proverbial “ring of fire” unless you want to come away blind and this be the last thing you ever see. To view a solar eclipse safely, you can always use a homemade pinhole projector, welders’ goggles or special solar filter viewing products. Check out Mr. Eclipse and discover how not to commit optic suicide while viewing a solar eclipse. Here’s a map so you can see if you will be anywhere where you might get to see it.
April 22/23 Lyrid Meteor Shower: This annual celestial event takes place during the time of a waning crescent Moon. That means the setting will be fantastic to watch meteors streak across the sky. Although the Lyrid Meteor Shower season can start lighting up the sky as early as April 16 and last as late as April 25, the 22 & 23 are the days where activity should peak. So, as long as it’s not cloudy or raining, all you have to do is sit outside anytime after nightfall and watch the show until daybreak.
What direction should you look? Well, the event takes its name after constellation Lyra. That’s the direction from which the meteors emerge. Look toward the star Vega, it’s one of the brightest stars in the sky in April. To spot it, look directly overhead for a brilliant star that looks bluish-white. Folks in the Northern Hemisphere have the best seats for this show but just about everyone in the world has a chance at a peek. Here’s a star map to help you find Vega so you will be looking in the right direction:
May 5/6 Eta Aquarid Meteors: If you didn’t get to see anything exciting with April’s meteor showers, maybe you will see something in May. The Eta Aquarid meteor shower season lasts from April 19 until May 28. However, the time of most activity will be May 5 & 6. Well, more specifically, the week hours on the morning of May 6. These meteors are the product of dust and debris from Halley’s Comet. During this time, Earth is passing through the path this famed comet travels around the Sun. This happens twice every year. The second event occurs in October. It takes the comet about 76 years to complete its orbit around the Sun. So, we are seeing rocks burn up in our atmosphere that have been hanging out on their own for nearly a century, at least. But, that’s just how long the rock has been separated from the comet. As to a meteorite’s true age, there’s really no telling. When you witness a shooting star, you could be watching the end of millions of years of history. To look for these meteors look toward the Aquarius constellation. Eta Aquarii, the namesake of this event, will be the brightest star of Aquarius. Here’s a star map to help you:
Aug. 7/8 Partial Lunar Eclipse: This will be visible in most of southern/eastern Asia, Europe, Africa and Australia. The eclipse will begin around 4pm UTC with maximum effect happening around 6:20pm UTC.
Aug. 12/13 Perseid Meteors: This is one of the brightest and most active meteor showers throughout the year. The entire season lasts from July 17 until August 24 but these are the best 2 days to be expected from the peak period of Aug 9-13. If you can, get out of town on a really dark night, settle down on a blanket and wait for the sky to light up right before dawn. These meteors are debris from the Swift-Tuttle Comet and can be viewed by looking toward the Perseus constellation. Folks in the Northern Hemisphere should look at the zenith of the northeastern sky. Here’s an image of the Perseus constellation:
Aug 21 The Great American Eclipse: A total solar eclipse will be center attraction across the entire U.S. Refer to Mr. Eclipse listed in the event for Feb. 26 to find out how to watch it safely.
October 8 Draconid Meteor Shower: The debris left behind by dust from comet 21 P/Giacobini-Zinner makes for a spectacular light show but only for certain lucky people who live in North America, Europe and Asia. The further south you go toward the equator, the less likely it is you will get to see any action. For the best opportunity, look toward the 2 brightest stars of the Draco the Dragon Constellation, Eltanin and Rastaban. If you can find the Little Dipper, Draco is close by. Take a look:
October 20/21 Orionid Meteors: Right on the heels of one fantastic meteor shower event is another. The Orionid meteors are blasting away throughout all of October but these two nights are the biggest shows. The best time to start watching is right after midnight. More dust from Halley’s Comet is making an encore appearance. Everyone in the Northern and Southern Hemisphere is invited to watch. It’s as easy as looking right overhead no matter where you are.
Nov 17/18 Leonid Meteor Shower: If you want to have a chance at seeing light shows from burning space debris created by the Tempel-Tuttle Comet, this show promises about 20 meteors per hour. People in both hemispheres can view the meteors starting around midnight on Nov. 17. No particular direction is better than another. Just get out of town, away from city lights. Pack a few sleeping bags so you can snuggle down in comfort and warmth, then lie on your back and enjoy the show.
Dec 3/4 Supermoon: End the year with a fabulous Supermoon. It will appear about 12-14% larger than normal. Being nearer the Earth will also mean the Moon will have a stronger tidal effect. If you have a chance, get to a beach and view three cool natural events, a Supermoon, amazing high tide and super-low neap tide. As the Supermoon pulls the tide further away from the beach than normal, there’s no telling what kind of treasure might be found!
The gringa hopes you are all excited about an interesting year ahead with cool space stuff to do every single month! Get out and enjoy the stars with someone you love! Pack a midnight picnic, disconnect from devices, lay back, relax and be patient. The show will begin in its own time!
Image Credits: Fine Art America