Space

Skywatching Events Not To Miss In 2014

December 27, 2013 | by Lisa Winter

Photo credit: Dan & Cindy Duriscoe, FDSC, Lowell Obs., USNO

There are plenty of exciting sky watching events coming up in the coming year that should excite amateurs and professionals alike. We'll be sure to remind you before the most noteworthy events, but mark your calendars so you can plan ahead and keep your eyes on the skies throughout 2014! Even if you don't have a telescope, many of these can be seen with the naked eye or a good pair of binoculars. 

January

2-3 - Quadrantids Meteor Shower peak - The shower will be visible from January first through the fifth, it peaks overnight on the 2nd and into the morning of the 3rd, with about 40 sightings per hour. These should be very easy to see, because the moon will not be present to wash the meteors out. The meteors will appear to be originating from the constellation Bootes.

5 - Jupiter at Opposition - This is the best day of the year to view Jupiter, as it makes it's closest approach to Earth and will be fully reflecting light from the sun. There will also be plenty of light reflecting off of its four largest moons: Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. These will be visible on both sides of the planet. 

March

20 - Asteroid takes out star - Okay, so the asteroid doesn’t really take out a star (because we all know who would win that fight), but it will pass in front of it and make it disappear from view. The asteroid 163 Erigone is 45 miles wide and will pass in front of Regulus, a star in the Leo constellation. For about 12 seconds, the asteroid’s shadow will completely obscure the star. This is a very rare occurrence and unfortunately very few will get the opportunity to see it. The center of the path will begin in New York City and it will move up into Ontario.

April 

8 - Mars at Opposition - As Mars makes its closest approach of the year on this date, this is the best time to observe it. Details of the Martian surface will be visible with a telescope using magnification 80-100x. Binoculars will enhance the color, but a medium telescope (about 5-8 inches) is needed to see details. Higher powered telescopes may even be able to see the polar ice caps.

15 - Total Lunar Eclipse - The full moon will be completely caught in Earth’s shadow, known as its umbra. At the onset of the eclipse, the moon will gradually appear to become a rusty red color. Astronomers in North and South America will have the best view of the eclipse, which is expected to last nearly 80 minutes.

22-23 - Lyrids Meteor Shower Peak - The remnants of C/1861 G1 Thatcher appear to us in the form of the Lyrids meteor shower. Though they will be visible between the 16th and 25th, they peak overnight on the 22nd with up to 20 meteors per hour. Unfortunately, the light from the second quarter moon will wash out some of the meteors, but the brightest ones should be visible. These meteors have the potential to be very dusty with bright tails that seem to hang in the air.

28-29 - Ring of Fire Eclipse - This partial solar eclipse will produce a “ring of fire” effect as the moon blocks out much of the sun’s light. Unfortunately, the best view of this phenomenon will be over an uninhabited region of Antarctica.

May

5-6 - Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower Peak - This shower is composed of dusty remnants of the famed Halley’s Comet. The long-running shower is visible from April 19th until May 28, but peaks overnight on May 5th with up to 60 sightings per hour. The first quarter moon should set right around midnight local time, which will really improve conditions for spotting meteors. Though the meteors can appear anywhere in the sky, it will appear that they are coming from the Aquarius constellation.

10 - Saturn at Opposition - Saturn will make its closest approach of the year and will be reflecting plenty of the sun’s light, making this the best opportunity to spot it. A medium telescope (about 5-8 inches) is needed to see the rings and some of the largest moons which will also be lit up from the sun.

24 - Meteor Shower - Before sunrise on the 24th, there could be a great number of meteors which are remnants of the comet P/209 LINEAR. The shower will be relatively short lived, but there is the potential for up to 100 sightings per hour.

June

7 - Mars and Moon Conjuncture - Just after sunset, Mars will be only a couple degrees away from our moon in the Western sky. This conjunction will be visible into the early morning hours.

July

28-29 - Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower Peak - This meteor shower is the remnants of two different comets. Though it runs from July 12 through August 23, it will peak overnight on July 28th with up to 20 sightings per hour. The meteors will appear to come from the Aquarius constellation.

August

10 - Supermoon - This will be the closest full moon of 2014, though it won’t appear much larger than any other full moon to the naked an untrained eye.

12-13 - Perseids Meteor Shower Peak - These meteors are leftovers from Swift-Tuttle comet and are a favorite among many skywatchers. The shower can be visible from July 17th through August 24th, and will peak overnight on August 12th at 60 sightings per hour. Unfortunately, the light from the moon will wash out many of the meteors, though the brightest should still be visible.

18 - Jupiter and Venus Conjuncture - Venus and Jupiter are the brightest planets in the sky and will be 0.25 degrees away from one another, which is less than the width of the moon. They will be best viewed before sunrise.

29 - Neptune at Opposition - The eighth planet will make its closest approach and will be reflecting plenty of sunlight on this day. Those with large, high powered telescopes may be able to see some details of this amazing planet, though it will appear only as a blue speck to everyone else.

October

7 - Uranus at Opposition - Uranus will make its closest approach and will be reflecting plenty of sunlight on this day. Those with large, high powered telescopes may be able to see some details of this amazing planet, though it will appear only as a teal speck to everyone else.

8 -  Total Lunar Eclipse - The second total lunar eclipse of the year will last about one hour and will be most visible to those on the western side of North America, as well as the easternmost parts of Asia and Australia. Africa and Europe will not be able to view the rusty red umbra at all.

8-9 - Draconids Meteor Shower Peak - This shower spans from October 6-10, though it will peak overnight on the 8th with up to 10 meteors per hour. Though it is a small shower anyway, it will be especially tough to observe this year because of the light from full moon. However, if you are already out observing the lunar eclipse, it might be possible to see some of the brightest meteors. They will appear as if they are originating from the Draco constellation.

19 - Mars/Comet Near Miss - The recently-discovered Comet C/2013 A1, commonly known as Sliding Spring, will be making an exceedingly close approach with our planetary neighbor. NASA’s Near-Earth Object Office has estimated that it will be only 68,000 miles (110,000 kilometers) away from the red planet, which is roughly one-third of the distance from the Earth to the moon. There is currently a 1 in 8000 chance of it striking the surface, which means that our rovers and orbiters should be completely safe.

22-23 -  Orionids Meteor Shower Peak - This shower is made up of remnants from the famed Halley’s Comet and spans from October 2 through November 7. It will peak overnight on the 22nd with up to 20 sightings per hour. Because it is the night before the New Moon, 2014 is an excellent year to view this shower. The meteors will appear to be originating from the Orion constellation.

23 - Partial Solar Eclipse - This partial solar eclipse will be visible throughout North America, as well as the easternmost parts of Russia.

November

5-6 - Taurids Meteor Shower Peak - Though the Taurids is a small shower, it has an extremely long span from September 7th through December 10th. It will peak overnight on the 5th with about 10 sightings per hour. Unfortunately, the light from the moon will wash out most of the meteors, but the brightest ones may still be visible. The meteors will appear to originate from the Taurus constellation.

17-18 - Leonids Meteor Shower Peak - The Leonids ranges from November 6th through the 30th, though it will peak overnight on the 17th with about 15 sightings per hour. The moon isn’t expected to wash out many of the meteors, so it should be fairly visible. In 2001, the Leonids produced hundreds of sightings per hour, but we aren’t expected to see that kind of show again until 2034. The shower will appear to originate from the constellation Leo.

December

13-14 - Geminids Meteor Shower Peak -  The Geminids is a perennial favorite among skywatchers. It spans from December 7th through the 17th, but will peak overnight on the 13th with up to 120 sightings per hour. The meteors will appear multicolored, which gives an added bonus to the already spectacular show. Though the moon will wash out some of the meteors, they should be bright and plentiful enough to still be very visible. These meteors will appear to originate from the Gemini constellation. 

24-25 - Ursids Meteor Shower Peak - The last meteor shower of the year will span from the 17th through the 25th, though it will peak overnight on the 22nd with about 10 sightings per hour. Because the shower’s peak coincides with the new moon, it should be a great time to view the meteors and close up a fantastic year of skywatching. These meteors will appear to originate from the Ursa Minor constellation.