Top 12 Astronomy Events In 2021

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of 202o. 2021 will be better.  I’ve compiled a list of the top 12 astronomy events in 2021!

From meteor showers to lunar eclipses and solar eclipses, with chances to see Mercury in the horizon and Saturn at opposition, these astronomical events ARE happening, no matter what’s going on with us humans. They’ll be spectacular, and require nothing but a clear sky.

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So let’s get outside with our significant others, kids, grandkids, tell our students, friends, and neighbors. STEM AT HOME activity ala top 12 astronomy events for 2021, here we come! 

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Get outside and see top twelve astronomy events
Let me out! I want to see Top 12 Astronomy Events in 2021

# 1 : QUADRANTIDS METEOR SHOWER on JANUARY 3-4, 2021

Meteors are what create a ‘shooting star,’ leaving lovely streaks of light in the sky.  Meteors are not stars: they are pieces of rock, floating in space. They burn up if they happen to enter the earth’s atmosphere. Let’s try to see a few in 2021!

 

Let’s start with The Quadrantids!  Click on this link for more of Jeff’s amazing photos.

Be sure to click on the photo so you can see it larger!

Susan Berk Koch Quadranids Meteor Shower
www.jeffberkes.com
THE QUADRANTIDS PEAK IN THE DAWN HOURS ON JANUARY 4
60-100 METEORS CAN BE SEEN PER HOUR
This is considered an above average meteor shower.
BEST VIEWED IN THE NORTHERN HEMISPHERE
If you have to choose, go for the pre-dawn hours. And hope there aren't clouds like these!
UNLIKE MOST METEOR SHOWERS WHICH ORIGINATE FROM COMETS, THE QUADRANTIDS ORIGINATE FROM AN ASTEROID
The asteroid is named ASTEROID 2003 EH1
ASTEROID 2003 EH1? WHAT A BORING NAME!
This asteroid is probably a piece of a comet that broke apart ~ 500 years ago.
I love this photo so I used it again!
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TAKE AWAY: For the Quadrantids, your best bet is to go out during the wee hours before dawn on January 4.  This one has a smaller peak window for viewing. 

Google calendar so you can add these events!

# 2 :PLANET MERCURY VISIBLE on MARCH 6

The planet Mercury is often cited as the most difficult of the five brightest naked-eye planets to see! I agree. This isn’t because Mercury isn’t bright. It’s because Mercury orbits so close to our sun. That means we need to catch Mercury low in the sky, as the sun sets.

 

Planet Mercury
Mercury looks so mysterious in this shot

In order to see the overwhelming majority of astronomical objects, you not only need the Sun to set, you need This seems so obvious but it's one reason why Mercury is hard to spot!

I’ve had difficulty sighting Mercury due to the fact that I live in a higher latitude, have issues with a crowded horizon, or the darn clouds! 2021 is my year. I’m determined to see Mercury again. Join me!

WE DON'T HAVE TOTAL DARKNESS UNTIL THE SUN DROPS 18° BELOW THE HORIZON
Mercury is called an inferior planet because it's between Earth and our sun
BUT YOU NEED TO CATCH MERCURY WHEN THE SUN IS ONLY 6° BELOW THE HORIZON
Obviously, this means it isn't quite dark yet!
MERCURY IS ELUSIVE!
I'm not going to delve into the geometry! I bet you're smiling now...
LOOK HOW SMALL MERCURY IS AS IT TRANSITS ACROSS THE SUN
Mind-blowing!
WE ACTUALLY HAVE 6 CHANCES TO SEE MERCURY IN A CALENDAR YEAR
Three times a year this rocky little world emerges into the evening twilight for a few weeks. Three other times in the year it ventures a little way into the morning sky.
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TAKE AWAY: On the morning of March 6, look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise. Here’s a link so you can look up your sunrise time on March 6! 

Google calendar link!

If you miss Mercury on March 6, email me and I’ll share the other five dates for viewing this speedy little planet in 2021.

#3 & # 4- SUPERMOON X TWO on APRIL 27 & MAY 26

Sure full moons are special, but what’s so great about a supermoon? 

Link for more of Petr’s gorgeous photographs. 

 

Super Moon Perigee
Courtesy Petr Horalek Photography
TO UNDERSTAND THE TERM SUPERMOON WE NEED TO KNOW THAT THE MOON ORBITS THE EARTH IN AN ELLIPSE
An ellipse is an oval that brings the moon closer to and farther from Earth as it goes around.
ITS CLOSEST POINT IN ORBIT IS CALLED THE PERIGEE
WHEN A FULL MOON APPEARS AT PERIGEE, IT IS BIGGER AND BRIGHTER THAN A REGULAR FULL MOON
A SUPERMOON IS 14% LARGER
COMPARING A SUPERMOON WITH A TYPICAL MOON FROM MEMORY IS VERY DIFFICULT
So no one is generally as impressed as they would be w/ a side by side comparision
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TAKE AWAY: Go outside after dark and impress someone with your knowledge of the astronomical term perigee and the 14% stat!

Add to your google calendar!

# 5- TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE on MAY 26, 2021 (MAY 26 AGAIN!)

May 26, 2021 is a big day for astronomical events! If you think about it, this makes sense, since we need a full moon for an eclipse. We don’t need a perigee aka supermoon though, even though that’s exactly what we’ll have on May 26.

 

What is a total lunar eclipse? And why is it called a blood moon?

Full Lunar Eclipse May 26 2021
Blood Moon aka Full Lunar Eclipse
A TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE OCCURS WHEN THE MOON PASSES COMPLETELY THROUGH THE EARTH'S SHADOW
The shadow is called the UMBRA
The moon is in the Earth's shadow, viewed from the dark side of Earth.
THE MOON WILL GET DARKER AND TAKE ON A BLOOD RED COLOR
The red color is due to sunlight filtered and refracted by Earth’s atmosphere.
VISIBILITY CHART FOR MAY 26, 2021
(self explanatory)
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Unlike solar eclipses, which require special glasses to view and can only be seen for a few short minutes in a limited area, a total lunar eclipse can be seen for an hour or more by anyone on the nighttime side of Earth. 

My fingers are crossed for clear skies!

Top 12 Astronomy Events In 2021
Louie dislikes solar eclipse glasses. He's more of a lunar eclipse guy
Supermoon Eclipse
Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani

TAKE AWAY : Go outside after dark on the evening of May 26! 

Here’s an eclipse look-up link for the total lunar eclipse. Just type your city in the box near the top of the page. The data will give you the best viewing times for your area. Add to your google calendar.

AN ECLIPSE NEVER COMES ALONE

A SOLAR ECLIPSE ALWAYS OCCURS ABOUT TWO WEEKS AFTER A LUNAR ECLIPSE

#6- ANNULAR SOLAR ECLIPSE on JUNE 10

Solar Eclipses occur when the shadow of the moon blocks the sun.  In this photo, the moon is passing between the sun and the earth. (see below)

Solar Eclipse Singapore
Solar eclipse in progress! courtesy Irene Ng
Diagram Solar versus Lunar Eclipse
Solar Eclipses occur when the shadow of the moon blocks the sun. Lunar eclipses occur when the shadow of the earth blocks the sun. (this is a test question).
Annular Solar Eclipse...The moon's orbit lines up but is still too far from the sun for its shadow to completely cover the sun. Hence the ring!
TERMINOLOGY (UGH)
Depending on the way the sun, moon, & earth line up created the confusing designations!
Again, annular solar eclipse means that the Moon is closer to Earth. Its shadow won't completely cover the Sun. (elliptical orbit!)
Lucky red areas will see the June 10 solar eclipse
White areas are SOL, alas. I'm in a yellow area. Where are you?
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A ring of light shows around the Sun during an annular eclipse, because the moon is too far away to completely cover the Sun. (I said it twice in case you skipped the slides…)

An annular solar eclipse is still extremely cool! Yes, I’m geeked.

Annular solar Eclipse
Image courtesy of Romeo Durscher

TAKE AWAY : Check this link for specific info about viewing.  Click here for NASA safety protocol.

Add to your google calendar here.

Get ready for the top twelve astronomy events in 2021
Ready for the solar eclipse!

#7- THE LAST SUPERMOON OF 2021 on JUNE 24

This is your last chance in 2021 to see a full moon at perigee, aka a supermoon. So if you missed the supermoons on April 27 and May 26, here’s your chance! Add to your google calendar!

Supermoon Eclipse
Photo Credit: NASA/Aubrey Gemignani
Top 12 Astronomy Events In 2021
Louie is happy to take off the glasses for the supermoon

#8- SATURN AT OPPOSITION on AUGUST 2

Let’s start with what opposition means!

top 12 astronomy events in 2021
Saturn...obviously
WHAT THE HECK DOES OPPOSITION MEAN, ANYWAY?
When a planet is at opposition – Earth is in the middle of a line between an outer planet and the sun.
EARTH IS IN THE MIDDLE!
AS THE SUN DROPS BELOW THE HORIZON, THE PLANET POPS UP!
OPPOSITE!
OPPOSITION DOES NOT HAPPEN WITH VENUS AND MERCURY
Their orbits are closer to the sun than Earth’s, so they can never appear opposite the sun in our sky!
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Planets at opposition are bright, partly because it’s around then that they are closest to us. (Do you remember what that term is? Yes! Perigee.)

Also, at opposition, an outer planet’s fully lighted face, or day side, faces us most directly. As a result, it appears fully illuminated by the Sun.

TAKEAWAY : Get outside after dark on August 2. Look east for Saturn. (Remember the sun is setting in the west as Saturn will rise in the east!) Add to your google calendar!

Saturn at Opposition August 2
Saturn and five of its moons. Can you find them all? Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute

# 9-PERSEIDS METEOR SHOWER on AUGUST 12-13

This is my favorite meteor shower! It produces 60-100  meteors per hour. The Geminids (see below #12) are  the king of the meteor showers, but the Perseids are the brightest. (Faster=brighter) 

Plus, I love being outside on a summer night so the Perseids get my vote!

perseid colorful meteor
My favorite! The Perseids
HOW TO WATCH A METEOR SHOWER
If it’s not cloudy, pick an observing spot away from bright lights, lay on your back, and look up!
NO SPECIAL EQUIPMENT NEEDED TO VIEW THE PERSEIDS, JUST YOUR EYES
Telescopes or binoculars are not recommended
SECRET TIP
Remember to let your eyes become adjusted to the dark (it takes about 30 minutes) – you’ll see more meteors that way. And STAY OFF YOUR PHONE because the screen will ruin your night vision.
METEOR COLOR
The color a meteor produces as it burns up in the atmosphere is mainly determined by two things – its speed and its chemical composition. Speed is important, because in general the faster a meteoroid is traveling the brighter it will be. Slower meteors appear redder.
The second important factor in meteor color is the chemical composition of the meteoroid itself. As the cosmic debris is burned up in the atmosphere, its distinctive elemental components emit light as electrons become excited and start to jump around. (I'll stop here...)
Okay, I didn't stop, in case you wanted to see translation of composition to color
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TAKE AWAY: Go outside after dark, get comfy, and look up! You will see meteors anytime between August 9-13! (The peak –aka best night– is August 12, 2021) Add to google calendar!

# 10- PARTIAL LUNAR ECLIPSE on NOVEMBER 19

I love lunar eclipses because we can just stare and stare at the moon and not worry about burning our eyes out, the way we do with solar eclipses!

The chart on the right will show you if you’re able to see this astronomical event. Many of you will! (Including me! Hurrah!)

Partial Lunar Eclipse November 18-19, 2021 Chart
courtesy time and date dot com
THE ECLIPSE BEGINS NOVEMBER 19 UTC TIME 06:02:09
To convert UTC time to your time, click on the link
Time Converter
ECLIPSE IS 97% AT PEAK
Maximum is 3 hours later. Well worth it.
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TAKE AWAY: Figure out what time this starts in your area, (here’s a chart to convert the  UTC time) go outside, and watch the show! (Peak is at UTC 09:02:55)

You can take your time….start to peak to finish takes about six hours. Google calendar here to add a reminder.

# 11- TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE on DECEMBER 4

Remember that lunar and solar eclipses follow each other about 2 weeks apart. And some years have no eclipses so I’m including all four in our top 12 astronomy events in 2021.

Since this is a total eclipse, the moon completely blocks the Sun! At totality, the fortunate few in its path will see the corona!

TOTAL SOLAR ECLIPSE
You can see the beautiful outer atmosphere of the sun, called the corona!
Notice the small shadow of the moon cast on the earth for viewing
Not many people will see this, unless they travel to Antarctica
BOO!
Gorgeous! Look at this corona
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Take heart. If you’re missing this one –I sure am– there is a total solar eclipse crossing much more populated areas on April 8, 2024! Hurrah!

Partial Solar Eclipse
Credit: NASA Langley/Harlen Capen and George Homich

#12- GEMINIDS METEOR SHOWER on DECEMBER 13-14, 2021

I’m writing this BEFORE the 2020 Geminids so this feels a little weird. The Geminids are  the king of the meteor showers!

 

Princess Louie
Anything else I say will be too dorky
GEMINIDS ARE THE BEST METEOR SHOWER IN THE HEAVENS
They produce up to 120 multicolored meteors an hour!
The Geminids are produced by debris left behind by asteroid 3200 Phaethon, discovered in 1982
PEAK DECEMBER 13-14 in BOTH 2020 and 2021
Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
Here is that color correlation to meteor composition slide again...Geminids are slower than Perseids so we have a better chance to see the colors.
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TAKE AWAY : Go outside after midnight with comfy clothes and look up.

Fun coincidence! The 2020 Geminids are also on December 13-14! 

But you can try anytime between Dec. 7-17! The Geminids have a less stringent viewing time than the Quadrantids. Click to add to your google calendar.

WHICH OF THESE TOP 12 ASTRONOMY EVENTS IN 2021 ARE YOU MOST EXCITED ABOUT?

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52 thoughts on “Top 12 Astronomy Events In 2021”

  1. Great as usual. Will definitely go outside next week to look for the meteors. On the news the other night they talked about December 21 being the time when Saturn and Jupiter will align to produce a very bright star. There’s conjecture that this is the star that guided the three kings to find Christ at Christmas. The last time this happened was 800 years ago supposedly. Mike.

    Reply
  2. Wow, this is such a great list! I’ve always wanted to see a meteor shower. I’m living in Dubai and I keep saying that I must go out to the desert the next time there is one so I can see clearly. I did catch the last super moon on my camera though 🙂

    Reply
  3. Yes this is awesome Sue! I absolutely love star gazing and I live in a pretty good place for it when it isn’t rainy. I’ve bookmarked this. One more thing to look forward to 2021, thank you!

    Reply
  4. This is such a detailed list, so thanks for sharing! I will have to add these into my calendar so that I can try see some of them. I just love looking out on a clear night at the moon and stars. The best moon I have ever seen was in Corfu, it was massive and such a beautiful shade of orange. Nevr seen anything like it since!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Aimsy xoxo
    https://www.aimsysantics.co.uk

    Reply
  5. Dark sky is a good thing, but dont let lights stop you. Legions of amateurs in the most heavily urbanized areas of the world have produced millions of observations of variable stars, lunar planetary solar events and more. Up to date technology has gifted us with breathtaking abilities to ignore light pollution as i have demonstrated to hundreds observing from the middle of town formerly difficult planetary nebual, galaxies, supernova remnants and star clusters.
    Of course we want Atacama skies. You dont need it for high power and video events. It is the height of phony to watch TV just because of a streetlight or two. I invite observers to challange obstacles and get observing no excuses.

    Reply
    • Well said! I was just reading about Robert Owen Evans, an amateur astronomer who runs rings around professionals! He holds the record for visual discoveries of supernovae! (42)
      A supernova occurs when a giant star, one much bigger than our sun, collapses and then spectacularly explodes. They’re visible for about a month. He doesn’t have an overly large telescope, either, 16 inches.

      What would you recommend as a starter telescope or pair binoculars for those starting out? Thanks so much for your input!

      Reply

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