Celestial Events In 2021
Mark your calendars to catch these noteworthy 2021 celestial events. Here are just a few of the exciting sights to look forward to this year!
Mercury will be at its greatest Eastern elongation on January 25th, meaning it is at its greatest separation from the Sun as it's setting. It's an ideal time to observe this tricky target!
Did you catch the peak of the Quadrantids on January 4th? The shower usually remains active until January 12th, but this year the waning gibbous Moon might have cut down the number of meteors everyone saw.
On February 11th there is a conjunction between Venus and Jupiter in the early morning just before sunrise. With a separation of 0.5 degrees, the pair will be close enough together to fit into the field of view of most telescopes around 75x-100x magnification. Plus with Saturn still nearby, it's a great morning for planetary viewing. Get up early, find a clear southeastern horizon, and see if you can get a good view before sunrise!
Not an early riser? February 11th is also the date of the new Moon this month, so that night is a great time for viewing deep sky objects with minimal light pollution.
Continuing the trend of morning planetary lineups, Jupiter closely approaches Mercury on the mornings of March 4th - 5th. With a separation of about 0.5 degrees, it's another nice early morning planetary conjuction! Saturn is still nearby, and a few days later on March 9th and 10th, the Moon joins up for a quad-viewing opportunity, with Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, and the Moon all grouped together.
The new Moon comes on March 13th, a week before the Spring equinox!
The Lyrid meteor shower will be peaking on April 22nd. See if you can catch some meteors from this April shower. This one probably won't bring May flowers, but some meteors are nice too. A nominal rate of 18 meteors per hour is expected, but unfortunately the moon is close to full, which might make some hard to see.
April's new Moon comes on the 12th. You could take one last chance to catch the great nebula in our namesame constellation setting a few hours after the Sun does, since it's only going to get harder to catch as Spring continues.
The Eta-Aquariid meteor shower peaks on May 5th, with a nominal rate of around 60 meteors per hour. It's close to the new Moon as well, so there will be no interference from moonlight.
May 26th brings a total lunar eclipse! This eclipse will be visible to the Western US as well as Australia, and parts of Asia. Partial eclipse lasts from 2:45 am to 5:52 am, and the total eclipse from 4:12 to 4:26 am (all times are listed in PST).
June 10th brings an annular solar eclipse from Canada through Greenland, and into Russia. Parts of North America, Europe, and Asia will be able to see a partial eclipse. See this page for a detailed map.*
The Summer Solstice on June 20th is the longest day of the year, and the start of summer in the Northern Hemisphere.
It will be difficult to observe, but Mars passes through M44 (The Beehive Cluster) on June 23rd. It will be at the edge of the cluster the day before, giving a perfect opportunity to scout a good observing location. They'll be low on the Western horizon as the sun sets, with Venus a little lower on the horizon. See if you can catch this planetary intruder!
June 27th and 28th make great summertime planetary viewing as the moon passes below Saturn and Jupiter. Rising just after midnight they may be visible for those staying up late, but early risers will have better views as the three are high in the sky by sunrise.
Mercury reaches its highest point in the morning sky on July 7th, with a nice pairing of an almost-new moon just above it. If you're an early riser with a clear Eastern horizon, try for this tricky target!
The new Moon comes just two days later on the 9th, so for night owls it's the perfect opportunity for viewing summertime Messier objects!
On July 12th Venus and Mars will be very close together, with a crescent moon just above. They'll be low on the Western horizon as the sun sets, separated by only 0.5 degrees.
The Perseids are here! One of the most popular meteor showers, they are active this year from July 22nd to August 23rd, with an estimated peak rate of 100 meteors per hour on the night of August 12th. This year the shower peaks close to the new Moon, so little light pollution interference is expected. Grab a chair and watch the show!
Another conjunction comes in August, this time Mars and Mercury! This one will be tricky to spot, low on the horizon as the sun sets. The planets will be separated by less than 5 arc-minutes, making it possible to view both at high magnification. It's certainly reminiscent of the Great Conjunction last year. If you've been viewing all these planetary pairs it might be time to start painting icons for your conjunction "view count" on the side of your scope!
Saturn and Jupiter are both at opposition this month, making August a great time for viewing them! The two planets are separated by about 18 degrees, making them easy to find together. Saturn is at opposition on the 1st, and Jupiter on the 19th, but since these gas giants orbits are far away from ours they do not change in size much over time, so almost any time this month is great for viewing. On the 21st the Moon will be just below the two, making for a nice trio of observing targets.
The new Moon is on September 6th, making it a great time for viewing faint deep sky objects.
Jupiter and Saturn continue to be well placed for observing this month, with the Moon making occasional appearances. On September 16th and 17th the Moon makes close passes by Saturn and Jupiter respectively, within 5 degrees in both cases. That's a little too far apart to view at high magnification, but most astronomy binoculars will be able to view both simultaneously!
The new Moon is on October 6th this month, making it a great time for viewing deep sky objects. The Pinwheel Galaxy, M33 is placed well for observing around this time, making it a great target along with a host of other Messier objects around this time of year.
The Orionid meteor shower peaks on October 21st, with an expected peak rate of 23 meteors per hour. Unfortunately the Moon is one day past full this year, cutting down the number of meteors you'll be able to see.
Take advantage of dark skies from the New Moon on November 4th to observe some of the best deep sky targets November has to offer. The Orion nebula (M42) and the Andromeda Galaxy (M31) are both good targets for most telescopes or binoculars because of how large and bright they are.
November 19th brings a partial lunar eclipse visible to North and South America, as well as parts of Europe and Asia. The eclipse begins at 11:19 pm on the 18th, and ends at 2:47 am on the 19th, with maximum eclipse at 1:04 am (all times given in PST). At maximum eclipse 97% of the moon's surface will be in shadow, so as partial eclipses go this is one to watch!
On December 4th a total solar eclipse will be visible from Antarctica, for the extreme eclipse chaser! Considering the remoteness of the terrain this might be a tough one to see, unless you're on an air or ocean liner. The next total eclipse passes across southeast Asia and Oceania in April of 2023, a hybrid eclipse that is annular for some areas and total for others. But good things come to those who wait, because a long-duration total solar eclipse is coming to the US in 2024!*
The Geminid meteor shower will be at its peak on the night of December 14th. It is expected to produce around 120 meteors per hour at peak. This year the Moon will be close to full, so will present some interference with this year's shower. Bundle up to catch this wintertime treat!