2020 ended (DEC) with a conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn. 2021 began (FEB 11) with a conjunction of Jupiter and Venus. Even in these days of social distancing, star gazing is distant enough. Here's a preview of some of the top astronomical events of 2021.
MARCH 9-10: Quadruple conjunction
MARCH 28: First of four supermoons
APRIL 18-25: Lyrid meteor shower
APRIL 27: Second of four supermoons
MAY 26: Third of four supermoons; also...
MAY 26: Total lunar eclipse
JUNE 10: Annular solar eclipse
JUNE 24: Fourth of four supermoons
JULY 12: Conjunction of Venus and Mars
AUGUST 11-12: Perseid meteor shower
NOVEMBER 19: Partial lunar eclipse
DECEMBER 4: Total solar eclipse
DECEMBER 13-14: Geminid meteor shower
More details to follow as these dates approach.
MARCH 28: SUPERMOON
2021 will have four "supermoons," which mark when a full moon occurs during a point in the moon's orbit when it is closer than average to Earth. The term supermoon, despite being popular with the public, isn't actually in the scientific lexicon.
Fred Espenak, a retired astrophysicist who worked at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center, defines a supermoon as a full moon "within 90% of its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit."
That means a full moon must be within 228,420 miles of earth to be identified as a supermoon; the distance from Earth to the moon averages 238,855 miles. Sucj moons appear bigger and brighter in the night sky compared to other full moons.
Supermoons appear most visually striking near the horizon, where their larger size if more readily apparent. It's not quite as obvious higher above.
APRIL 18-25: LYRID METEOR SHOWER:
The Lyrid meteor shower takes place every year, and it happens because the of the Earth moving through the remnants of the tail of the comet Thatcher. Thatcher itself comes around every 400 years or so, but the solar system is strewn with debris from comet tails. The shower is active through April 25 in North America, peaking in the predawn hours of Thursday morning.
APRIL 27: SUPERMOON
"It is completely made up," says Tony Rice, a solar system ambassador with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laborarory in California, who views the concept of a "supermoon" as a teachable moment. "At the end of the day, it gets somebody outside, it gets them looking up, it gets them appreciating this."