While 2020 may go down in the history books as a year we’ll want to forget, some of the year’s bright spots came from the cosmos (literally). 2020 brought us amazing cosmic spectacles like the Halloween blue moon, a total solar eclipse, the Geminid meteor shower and the ‘Christmas Star’ conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn.
2021 is expected to keep up the pace as the year comes with a slate of impressive cosmic events that astronomers and casual viewers alike should have marked on their calendars.
Here, in chronological order, are 10 stargazing events to look forward to in 2021. The list mainly comes from National Geographic, with additional information added from independent research.
Quadrantid meteor shower (Jan. 3)
According to Earthsky.org, the Quadtranid shower can display between 50-100 shooting stars per hour in a dark sky. Unfortunately, a bright waning gibbous moon with make the fireballs a little harder to see this year. But even so, the site reports that viewers may still catch sight of a few bright fireballs if they’re watching from an area with minimal light pollution.
Quadruple formation (March 9-10)
Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn will all appear in the night sky in near-perfect alignment and the nearby crescent moon will frame the cluster of planets. According to National Geographic, each planet will be easily visible to the naked eye. Mercury will be the faintest and Jupiter the brightest.
Blood moon full lunar eclipse (May 26)
National Geographic reports that during the total part of the eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth’s dusty atmosphere will be bent (or refracted) toward the red part of the light spectrum and cast onto the moon’s surface. As a result, the moon will transform from a dark gray color to a reddish-orange color during the few minutes of totality. This total lunar eclipse happens to coincide with the moon being at its closest point to Earth in its egg-shaped orbit, so the lunar disk will also be bigger and brighter than an average full moon. Forbes reports that the event will only be visible from the far north reaches of the globe, so the best views of the event will occur in northern Ontario.
‘Ring of Fire’ solar eclipse (June 10)
This rare cosmic event takes place when the moon, sun and Earth are aligned in such a way that the moon’s diameter is too small to cover the entire sun at the point of totality, creating a ring of light around the dark lunar silhouette. This year, the spectacular cosmic event will only be visible from parts of Canada, Greenland and Russia, according to TimesNow.
Venus-Mars conjunction (July 12)
Similar to the Saturn-Jupiter conjunction in 2020, during July’s conjunction Venus and Mars will appear to touch as their paths of orbit cross from our Earthly vantage. The conjunction will take place shortly after sunset and the event will be visible to the naked eye, according to In-the-sky.org.
Perseid meteor shower (Aug. 12-13)
According to the American Meteor Society, the Perseid meteor shower can produce between 50 and 75 visible shooting stars per hour in a typical year. According to National Geographic, this year will be particularly good for the Perseids since the shower’s peak coincides with a dark, moonless sky.
Mars-Mercury conjunction (Aug. 18)
Similar to the Venus-Jupiter conjunction in February, August’s conjunction between Mars and Mercury will be tricky to spot because of its position relative to the setting sun. With a clear view, both planets will be visible together with either a backyard telescope or a pair of binoculars, according to In-the-sky.org.
Draconid meteor shower (Oct. 8)
The best time to watch the shower will be around midnight local time when the Draco constellation is at its highest point in the sky. The Draconids will be less eventful than August’s Perseid shower, as it's expected to yield 10-15 visible shooting stars per hour.
Partial lunar eclipse (Nov. 19)
Almost a total eclipse, the November event will show 95% of the full moon cast in Earth’s shadow. With such a large percentage of shadow cover, there is a chance the event will cast some orange and red hues on our closest cosmic neighbor. The event will peak at 2:02 a.m. MT.
Total solar eclipse (Dec. 4)
At the end of 2021, the total solar eclipse will only be visible from Antartica, while viewers in Chile, Argentina, South Africa, Namibia and Australia will have the chance to see “a bite taken out of the sun” as the moon partially obscures it. According to Forbes, eclipse-chasers will take airlines and cruise ships to head to the path of totality near the South Orkney islands to experience the two minutes of daytime darkness.