Look Up! Exciting Celestial Events in 2016
Like most people, we definitely enjoy watching stuff on our tablets, TVs and smartphones (we are a telecommunications company after all), but with all that technology we can sometimes forget about the greatest show of them all: the sky! Thus, we thought it best to compile a list of all the greatest celestial events you and your family can look forward to this year, just by looking up.
We’ll start with the basics. There’s a full moon every month, but that doesn’t make it any less awesome every time you see it. Did you know each month’s full moon has a name? These names date back to Native Americans, who kept track of the seasons by giving distinctive names to each month’s moon. January’s full moon (Jan. 23rd) is called “Full Wolf Moon”, describing how the wolf packs would howl hungrily outside Indian villages amid the deep snows of midwinter.
May 21: Blue Moon. This full moon, known as the Full Flower Moon, is also a Blue Moon, which means that it’s the 3rd of 4 full moons in this season. There are normally only 3 full moons in each season of the year, but since full moons occur every 29.53 days, occasionally a season will have 4 full moons. The extra full moon is known as the Blue Moon, and only occurs on average once every 2.7 years!
October 16: This is the 1st of 3 Supermoons this year! A Supermoon is when the Moon is at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger or brighter than usual. The other Supermoons are on November 14th and December 14th.
Feb 7th: Mercury, the planet closest to the sun is best seen on this date low in the sky. This closeness also occurs on June 5th, April 18th, August 16th, September 28th, and December 11th, so there are lots of chances to see this quick-orbiting planet.
March 8: The giant planet Jupiter will be at its closest approach to Earth tonight and visible all night long. Best thing about Jupiter? It’s so big that its easily visible, and using a good pair of binoculars, you’ll even be able to see its 4 largest moons as tiny bright dots orbiting around it!
May 9: Mercury will move directly between the Earth and the Sun on this day. Viewers with telescopes and approved solar filters will be able to observe a dark disk moving across the face of the Sun. This event won’t happen again until the year 2039, so catch this rarity while it lasts!
May 22: Mars will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun, so this is the best time to catch a glimpse (and see a Martian?)
June 3: The ringed planet Saturn will be closest and best viewed on this date. It will be visible all night long.
August 27: Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter. The two bright planets will be extremely close, appearing only 0.06 degrees apart. Look for this spectacular event in the western sky just after sunset.
Sept 3: Neptune will be at its closest and brightest tonight. It will be visible all night long, but because of its distance, will only appear as a tiny blue dot that may be hard to see.
October 15: The blue-green planet of Uranus will be at its closest, best and brightest tonight. But because of its distance, like Neptune it will only be a tiny blue-green dot.
There are 4 eclipses this year, but unfortunately, none will be viewable from our part of the world. Vacation to Indonesia in March, anyone?
April 22, 23: Lyrids Meteor Shower. This is an average shower, usually producing around 20 meteors per hour at its peak. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight.
May 6,7: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. This is an above-average shower, and can produce up to 30 meteors per hour in the Northern Hemisphere. The new moon will ensure dark skies for optimal viewing!
July 28, 29: Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower. This is an average shower, producing around 20 meteors per hour at its peak. Although the quarter moon will block many of the fainter meteors, you should be able to spot some if you’re patient.
August 12, 13: Perseids Meteor Shower. The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at its peak. The Perseids are famous for producing a large number of bright meteors.
October 7: Draconids Meteor Shower. The Draconids is a minor meteor shower producing only about 10 meteors per hour. The Draconids is an unusual shower because it is best viewed in the early evening instead of early morning like most other showers.
November 17, 18: Leonids Meteor Shower. The Leonids is an average shower, producing up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. That last of these occurred in 2001. Best viewing is after midnight from a dark location.
December 13, 14 - Geminids Meteor Shower. The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. The nearly full moon will block many of the meteors from view, but they are so plentiful that it will still be a good show.
How to Keep Track
So how are you supposed to remember all these cool events? Well, NASA has created a pretty awesome celestial calendar tool (SKYCAL!) that you can print off and hang on your fridge. It shows celestial events based on your particular time zone, showing only the events you want from meteor showers to solar eclipses.
So plan for a late night with family or friends, get out that dusty telescope and don’t forget to look up!
http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SKYCAL/detailsd.html. "Courtesy of Fred Espenak, NASA/GSFC"