We’re going to look ahead to what events we can expect to see this year.
In space and astronomy, we have four big things we can enjoy. While we can’t predict when new science will come out, we can predict when the stars and planets will align to bring us amazing celestial treats.
In 2021, we won’t have a repeat of the Jupiter and Saturn conjunction that we just experienced in December 2020, but we will have a meeting of Jupiter and Mercury. On March 5, these two planets will align in the sky so that they appear in the same binocular field of view. Their separation will be less than the width of the moon. In general, Mercury is very hard to see because it is often located in the twilight sky, and it is, on average, the faintest of the planets visible to the unaided eye. If you’ve never seen Mercury, this will be your chance.
Mercury and Jupiter aren’t the only pairings we have to look forward to. On April 17, the Moon and Mars will tangle as the crescent Moon passes in front of Mars. This event can only be seen if you are in the right place on the planet, and that place is South / Southeast Asia. For those of you in Southern Australia, there will be another occultation on Dec 31. For the rest of you, well, you’ll need to wait for another year.
In 2020, Venus was big in the news, and in 2021 it will be high in the sky. While Venus is often visible either around sunrise or sunset, we won’t get a good look at the dazzling planet until mid-September this year. You can watch for Venus now at dawn to the southwest, but then it will disappear behind the sun come spring. As we move into summer, Venus will appear at sunset, still very low in the sky but brighter. Then, once we get into fall, Venus will remain in the sky even after twilight, until it becomes a brilliant light in the November and December night skies. The cycle will repeat after Christmas, so enjoy Venus until then.
As so often happens, 2021 will also have its share of eclipses of both the Moon and the Sun, and there is a little something for everyone. On May 26, a total eclipse of the moon will be visible about the Pacific Rim, with Hawaiians getting the eclipse when the Moon is high in their sky. Later in that same lunar orbit, there will be a “Ring of Fire” Solar Eclipse, during which the Moon will be far enough from the earth that its small size won’t be able to block all of the Sun. The eclipse path will explore the extreme north, traveling from Canada and Greenland past the North Pole and into Siberia. Partial eclipses will be seen by people throughout North America.
Lunar and solar eclipses tend to come in pairs, and in 2021 we’ll get two separate pairs to enjoy. A second partial eclipse of the Moon will occur on November 19 and be visible from the UK through to Australia. Its partner solar eclipse will bring a total eclipse on December 4 that will travel through the Antarctic, being visible on a path from the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf through to the Ross Sea. A partial eclipse will be visible in Southern Africa, Tasmania, and southern sections of Australia and New Zealand.
No matter where you are in the world, there should be something to see. In addition to these special events, 2021 will offer the normal bounty of meteor showers and perhaps even some especially nice aurora as the Sun becomes more active. We’ll be bringing you more information about all of these events during our regular Thursday “What’s Up” segments. For those of you wondering what equipment you’ll need to see all of these events, we’re happy to say that all you need is your eyes except for the solar eclipse. As a reminder, don’t look at the Sun unless you have certified solar glasses or filters. These are often sold as “Eclipse Glasses” but they can be used any clear day of the year to study the Sun and its changing set of spots. And don’t forget to check your glasses for any pinholes every time you use them.
Ten Celestial Events to Look Forward to in 2021 (Smithsonian Magazine)
Solar and Lunar Eclipses Worldwide – Next 10 years (timeanddate)
The Best Meteor Showers in 2021 (Sky & Telescope)