The night sky hosts amazing celestial events visible to even the most amateur stargazers. In 2021, there are opportunities to see everything from eclipses to meteor showers to conjunctions. Here are some exciting stargazing moments coming up throughout the year.
February 11: Venus-Jupiter conjunction
Two of the brightest celestial bodies in our sky will meet up for their rare conjunction. This means that, from the right vantage point, you can see the two planets sitting seemingly side-by-side in the sky. Those in the Southern Hemisphere will have the best vantage point, due to the planets’ placement above the horizon. While the exact timing of this event varies by location, most eager viewers will have to set an alarm and wake up before sunrise in order to catch it.
May 4-5: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
Meteor showers are exciting because they are often visible for long stretches of time rather than one singular moment. The Eta Aquarids meteor shower is no different, visible for an entire day before it reaches its ultimate peak in the early morning of May 5. These meteors are most visible under perfect conditions, meaning a dark sky and a moonless night. While the shower is most active in the Southern Hemisphere, some areas of the United States may be able to spot up to 20 meteors every hour.
May 26: Blood Moon (Total Lunar Eclipse)
Later in May, we will be able to see another impressive event in our sky: the blood moon, also known as a total lunar eclipse. Total lunar eclipses are dubbed blood moons due to the red light the moon is surrounded by during the eclipse. This event will be visible only to those in the western United States, western South America, Southeast Asia, and Australia. This is because the moon must be visible in the night sky in order for viewers to witness the eclipse. This is another early-risers exclusive, and the full eclipse lasts just under fifteen minutes.
June 10: Ring Of Fire, Annular Solar Eclipse
The “ring of fire” is part of a special eclipse -- an annular solar eclipse. This phenomenon takes the unconventional path of moving north, passing the planet’s North Pole, and then continuing south. In order to view the actual “ring of fire” part of the eclipse, you have to be lucky enough to live within an incredibly narrow path through Canada, Greenland, and Russia. However, those outside of the specific path, including residents of the United States’ east coast as well as some northern states, will be able to see a partial solar eclipse.
July 12: Venus-Mars Conjunction
Another meeting-of-the-planets this year is the Venus-Mars conjunction. Venus will once again pass a fellow planet, and this meeting will be visible to the naked eye. For celestial events like these, it is actually preferable to opt out of telescope use, as too exact a point ruins the illusion of the Venus-Mars conjunction. To the naked eye, the night sky on July 12 will show Venus and Mars, the two brightest lights in the sky, sitting right next to each other.
August 12-13: Perseids Meteor Shower
Another meteor shower will pass through the sky in mid-August. The Perseids meteor shower, while peaking on the night of August 12, will flood the sky with meteors for several nights before and after. The best viewing time is when the sky is at its darkest, which is usually the window of time after midnight but before dawn. This is one of the best meteor showers for Northern Hemisphere residents, as the meteors should be clear and visible, lighting up their night sky.
October 8: Draconid Meteor Shower
The Draconid meteor shower is another great option for those in the Northern Hemisphere. This year the meteor shower is occurring on October 8, as well as the days before and after. The Draconid meteor shower is normally not nearly as intense as the others on this list, instead occurring mostly in the evening before the sky has fully darkened. In addition to happening in a more obscured sky, the meteors are much less frequent, with only a few possible sighting per hour. However, it is an exciting meteor shower to look out for, seeing as on a few occasions it has been known to roar to life, producing hundreds of meteors in a single hour.
November 19: Partial Lunar Eclipse
November is the last opportunity of the year to catch an eclipse. While parts of Asia and Africa won’t be able to view the partial lunar eclipse, this phenomenon will be visible to almost everybody else in the world. The total duration of the eclipse is six hours, meaning viewers can choose either to stay up late or be an early riser, as both options allow for a viewing of the event.