Being able to see proof of our solar system in motion is worth dropping whatever you're doing to stop and relish the reminder that we are all living on a spinning rock in the sky. I get so excited when I hear of an astronomical event happening and then take too long rolling a joint, missing the whole shebang. Plan ahead and mark your calendar: the stars are about to give us a great show.
1. January 19-20 : Occultation of the star Aldebaran by the Moon
An example of the moon about to occult a star. credit: virtualtelescope
first event worth whipping out the telescope for is no major affair, but it does give us a chance to actually watch the moon move in its orbit. The illuminated Moon will pass in between the bright star Aldebaran and Earth, a moment we can witness when the twinkling light of Aldebran is blocked out as the Moon moves in front of it at 9:40 PM EST (on the 19th) for North America. Events that take place on the Moon's "edge" are of particular interest to observers, because the lack of glare allows these occultations to more easily be observed and timed.
2. March 9 : Total Solar Eclipse (Indonesia and Pacific Ocean)
Total solar eclipse.credit: newallpaper.net
The total solar eclipse is the ultimate celestial event—when the Moon completely blocks the Sun, darkening the daytime sky and revealing the Sun's gleaming corona. Those in Indonesia and on boats on the Pacific Ocean will be able to see this one, but unfortunately North Americans will have to check the internet for pictures afterward. Don't worry, a once-in-a-lifetime total eclipse will cross the entire continental United States next year on August 21, 2017.
3. May 6-7 : Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
A view of the Eta Aquarids shower from Texas.credit: Space.com
A convenient new Moon on the night of May 6 means the dark skies will allow the Eta Aquarids to shine brightly, making it a prime night for stargazing. Composed of the remnants of the famous Comet Halley, one could see up to 30 meteors per hour in the Northern Hemisphere and 60 per hour in the Southern.
4. May 9 : Mercury Transits the Sun
An example of the Venus transit.credit: earthobservatory.nasa.gov
This is the first time Mercury has passed between us and the Sun since 2006, making it a highlight in 2016 astronomy. Mercury is one of the most difficult planets to view, but it will be visible in broad daylight with the use of a telescope equipped with a suitable solar filter. Observers along the eastern coasts of the Americas will get the best view.
5. May 21 : Full Moon & Blue Moon
A supermoon viewed over Portland in 2014.credit: www.oregonlive.com
The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Flower Moon because this was the time of year when spring flowers appeared in abundance. Since this is the third of four full moons in this season, it is known as a blue moon. This rare calendar event only happens once every few years, which is where we get the term, "once in a blue moon." Blue moons occur on average once every 2.7 years.
6. June 3 : Saturn at Opposition
The ringed planet in all its glorycredit: sun-sentinel.com
Saturn rules the summer sky, but on this night, we get an especially up close view of the ringed planet. When it reaches opposition, Saturn will be lit up by the Sun, and the rings will be visible in even small aperture telescopes. You may even notice that its rings look brighter than usual thanks to a phenomenon known as the Seeliger Effect.
7. August 12-13 : Perseids Meteor Shower
Perseids meteor shower in 2012.credit: Jeff Sullivan
The Perseids meteor shower is one of the most exciting events of the summer. This year, skies will be dark after the Moon sets around midnight, leaving the sky dark for prime meteor viewing, up to 60 per hour!
8. September 1 : Annular Solar Eclipse
Example of a ring of fire eclipse.credit: Wikipedia/Kevin Baird.
Also known as the "Ring of Fire," an annular solar eclipse is similar to a total eclipse, except that the Moon is farther away from the Earth, so it's not large enough to completely cover the Sun. The Earth, Moon, and Sun are in perfect alignment. Observers in certain parts of Africa including Congo and Madagascar will be treated to this unique celestial phenomenon. Check the web for photos of the event afterward!
9. October 21-22 : Orionids Meteor Shower
The Orionid shower from Norway.credit: cntraveler.com
The Orionids, more meteors left behind in the wake of Halley's Comet, will race through the skies on the evening of October 21. Although they'll be competing with the light of the second quarter Moon, these meteors tend to be among the brightest of the year. Look toward the constellation Orion for the best chance of spotting these celestial visitors.
10. December 13-14 : Geminids Meteor Shower and Supermoon
View of the Geminids shower from Britain in 2014.credit: mashable.com
Normally a full Moon will block out a meteor shower, so a Supermoon on the night of December 14 will certainly put a damper on the usually-breathtaking Geminids. However, since the Geminids are the biggest and brightest shower of the year, a few "shooting stars" might peek through the Moon glow.
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