2021: A Year of Celestial Wonder
Last updated 1/11/2021 at 10:48am
The beginning of each new year is filled with hope and optimism. This year will be no exception, especially after the gut-punch we received from 2020. And with the new year comes a list of resolutions we swear we’ll follow. How many times can we possibly say, “And this year, I mean it!”
There is one resolution, however, that can easily carry us through the entire year: keeping watch on the heavens. And believe me, 2021 will be, without question, quite good for sky watchers!
As 2021 begins, only one planet will appear prominently in our evening sky: the red planet, Mars. While it will remain there until springtime, it will recede farther from the Earth during that time. As it does, it will become fainter and less conspicuous among the stars, dropping in brightness more than five times between January and May.
In the early morning sky, however, Venus will continue to dazzle with its brightness. For the first two months of the year, it will appear low in the east before sunrise but will shine in the early evening sky from May through July.
Other planets will also join the evening sky show in 2021. In August, Jupiter and Saturn will return to their opposition points. While they will appear more separated in the sky than during their historic conjunction of Dec. 21, 2020, they will then be at their closest and brightest and will appear spectacular in even a small telescope.
We will also be treated to a couple of lunar eclipses during the year. On May 26, sky watchers in the western part of North America will enjoy a total eclipse of the moon; unfortunately, those in the far eastern half of the continent will see it just beginning as the moon sets at dawn.
The second lunar eclipse of 2021 is more promising and will be visible to all of North America on Nov. 19. Though it is technically a partial lunar eclipse, the moon will pass so deeply into the Earth’s umbral shadow that it will appear to most as if it were total.
We also have two Solar eclipses coming up; unfortunately, they will both occur far from large population centers. The first – an annular eclipse in which the sun appears as only a ring during mideclipse – occurs along a path from Ontario, Canada, through Baffin Bay, Greenland, and Siberia. The second, a total eclipse, will be seen only by penguins and those able to travel to join them in Antarctica.
Meteor-shower fans will be delighted to learn that the famous Perseid meteor shower of mid-August will reach its early-morning peak with no moonlight obliterating the sky. The Geminids of December, however, will wrestle with bright moonlight through the evening hours, but the moon will set early enough to give stargazers a few dark hours of meteor watching before dawn. Both meteor showers occur on weekdays this year, so be sure to schedule your vacation days now while you’re thinking of it!
I would like to wish all my readers and fans a very happy, healthy and star-filled 2021. Get ready for another exhilarating year of cosmic wonder!