Two thousand twenty-one beings to us numerous opportunities to treat of eyes as we stare at the everlasting night skies.
Here are the six most noteworthy sky events of 2021. A solid pairing-off between two bright planets, an excellent year for viewing the beloved Perseid meteors, a nearly total and total eclipse of the moon, and a superb autumn exhibition for Venus are among the astronomical highlights that will take place this year.
1. January 3: The Quadrantid meteor shower
Presently the Quadrantid meteor shower is apparently — along with the December Geminids— the most decadent annual meteor display but one of the shortest; six hours before and after maximum, these blue meteors arrive at only a quarter their known highest rates. This year, the maximum of the meteor shower is predicted to transpire at 1500 hours GMT. Sadly, the gibbous moon will hinder the observations. Under more favorable conditions, you might count many meteors (around 15) per hour. The Quadrantids’ radiant (from where the small meteors appear to jump out) is situated halfway between the end of the Big Dipper’s handle and the head of Draco, high in the northeast sky during the late night.
2. March 5: Mercury and Jupiter meet
Mercury and Jupiter are hardly above the east-southeast horizon during sunrise, but this morning they’re involved in very close association, severed by just 0.35 degrees. Brighter Jupiter (magnitude -2.0) will just sit to the lower right of the much dimmer Mercury (magnitude +0.1); the solar system’s most giant planet easily outshines the smallest.
3. May 26: Total eclipse of the moon
This total lunar eclipse picks the Pacific Rim, the geographic region encompassing the Pacific Ocean. The Pacific Rim includes North and South America’s western shores and the shores of eastern Asia, Australia, and the Oceania Pacific islands. Hawaiians get a comprehensive view with the eclipse occurring high in their sky in the midst of the night. Across Northern America, western countries will see the total phase and a part of the partial closing stages before moonset interrupts.
4. June 10: Ring of fire’ annular solar eclipse
Since the moon will be located at a distance of 404,300 km (251,200 miles) from Earth around this “ring of fire” solar eclipse, the lunar disk will look slightly tinier than the sun; 5.7% smaller, to be precise.
As such, when the moon moves squarely in front of the sun, it will not cover the star’s face, but instead, a sunlight ring will remain noticeable. Hence, the term “annular” eclipse originates from the Latin “annulus,” which means ring-shaped.
5. August 11-12: Perseid meteor shower
These late hours will be the best time to watch for this, the Old Faithful of the summer sky: the Perseid meteor shower.
The most suitable time to watch will be following the moon sets around 10:30 p.m. local daylight time, leaving the rest of the night darker for these fast streaks of light. The Perseids generate about one meteor per minute under dark skies and occasionally produce notably bright meteors, called fireballs, or collapsing meteors, called bolides.
6. Mid-September to end of 2021: The Venus show
The most beautiful of planets poorly start 2021. Venus begins low in the southeastern morning sky; drops out of sight behind the sun in March and April. Appearing in the sunset sky, it stays there at only average height — sliding southward and coming slowly nearer and brighter but still set before the sky becomes completely dark.
Finally, in September, it stays in sight after the night ends. Then in early November, it quickly vaults as if off a springboard into twilight prominence, attaining its most excellent brilliance in early December and with great fanfare commanding attention to itself each evening during the holiday season before falling back toward the sun in 2022.