If you’re looking into a hobby to pick up as you wait to get the Covid-19 vaccine, astronomy is certainly not a bad one given how many exciting celestial events are happening in 2021. Most of the following are visible across the globe without the need of any special equipment, although in some cases you could see even more with a pair of binoculars or a telescope.
Planetary Conjunctions Galore
Just a few weeks ago on December 21, we witnessed the spectacle that was The Great Conjunction, when Jupiter and Saturn appeared so close in the sky they looked like a single object. Several stunning conjunctions will be visible throughout the year in 2021.
On February 11, Jupiter and Venus will get really close to each other. Being among the brightest objects in the night sky, the conjunction is expected to be clearly visible. The best time to see it is about half an hour before dawn, looking towards the East. People in the Southern Hemisphere will have an easier time, as the planets will be higher on the horizon.
The next cosmic huddle is the Mercury and Jupiter conjunction on March 5, which once again will require an early morning rise. If you get into the habit just a few days later (9-10 of march) you’ll be able to catch Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn in a line across the sky.
Catering to those who prefer seeing astronomical stuff in the evening, we have the Venus-Mars conjunction on July 12, with the two planets visible after sunset separated by a distance similar to the size of the full moon. Mars will also be in conjunction with Mercury on August 18, but it will be very close to the setting Sun, so it might be trickier to catch.
Lunar and solar eclipses
Lunar lovers should put May 26 in their calendar, as our natural satellite will cross the shadow of the Earth and turn its characteristic crimson color, called a Blood Moon. The spectacle can be seen partly in Asia and North America, but the whole of Oceania will experiencing it, so it is certain to get astrophiles from down under excited.
“Finally this year we will have a Total Moon Eclipse, which in Australia will be visible just after dinner time from the East coast,” astrophotographer Adriano Massatani, based in Australia, shared in a post.
“During the totality, the moon is thousands of times dimmer than the fully illuminated moon so to attempt to capture the red color during totality and some stars, you need to increase the exposure to a few seconds. A tracking mount is recommended. During the eclipse, the moon will be close to Antares and the Milky Way, and a wide field lens will be great to capture the red moon in a rich field of stars.”
A few weeks later, on the other side of the planet, there will be a spectacular annular solar eclipse. This is also known as a Ring of Fire eclipse. On June 10, this peculiar eclipse will block the sun for part of Canada and Russia, but people in places such as New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Ottawa, and all of Quebec will experience something quite peculiar. Their sunrise will feature the moon eclipsing about 80 percent of the solar disk.
Catch the shooting stars
If you are a night owl then your preferred choice of spectacle is probably meteor showers, since they tend to peak in the middle of the night. The International Meteor Organization has published its meteor shower calendar and the predicted maximum rate of meteors per hour for every shower happening this year. These are the three “busiest” showers.
Peaking on the night between May 4/5, the Eta Aquariids will have about 10-30 meteors per hour. They are particularly good viewing from the southern tropics.
A staple of the northern summer nights, the Perseids will peak on August 11/12 with an expected rate of 50-75 meteors per hour.
The brightest one of all (unless one of the other ones throws us a curveball) are the Geminids, peaking on December 13-14. Observers are expected to see up to 150 meteors per hour.