Skywatching Calendar of Events 2014: Total Lunar Eclipses, Supermoon, Meteor Showers, Possible Collision Between Comet and Mars & More
As 2013 draws to a close, astronomers and amateur stargazing fanatics should take a moment to mark their 2014 calendars with reminders of several celestial events that will light up the sky in the coming new year.
Here is a round-up of the most noteworthy sky dazzlers, including meteor showers, two total lunar eclipses, a near collision of a comet with Mars, and more:
January: Of note in January 2014 will be the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. The shower will be visible from Jan. 1 through Jan. 5, though it will peak overnight on Jan. 2 and into the early hours of Jan.3 with around 40 sightings per hour. According to iflscience.com, the meteors in this shower should be easy to view because the moon will not be present to wash them out.
March: On Mar. 22, Space.com reports that an exceedingly rare celestial event is predicted for early in the morning when an asteroid will briefly hide one of the brightest stars from view.
The asteroid in question is 163 Erigone, and it will pass in front of Regulus, a star in the Leo constellation. Very few people will actually be able to see this rare occurrence, whose path will begin in New York City and move up into Ontario, Canada.
"Those who are watching at just the right moment will see an amazing sight: Regulus will seem to abruptly disappear as if a light switch had been thrown," said Space.com's Joe Rao. "Regulus will remain invisible for up to 12 seconds -- an incredible, albeit brief occurrence."
April: On Apr. 14, stargazers will be treated to two night sky events. The first is that Mars will come within 57.4 million miles of Earth, its closest approach to our planet since January 2008, according to reports. Space.com notes that "all through the night Mars will resemble a dazzling star ... its brightness will match Sirius, the most luminous of all the stars."
Later on in the night of Apr. 14 and into the early hours of Apr. 15 there will be a total lunar eclipse as well. The full moon will be completely immersed in the Earth's shadow. Astronomers in North and South America will best be able to view this eclipse, which should last for 75-80 minutes.
On Apr. 28 - 29 those who will happen to be in Antarctica will have first row seats for a "Ring of Fire" eclipse. The partial solar eclipse will produce what is known as a "ring of fire" illusion, as the moon blocks out the majority of the sun's light.
May: On the evening of May 5 - 6 stargazers will be able to see the peak of the Aquarids Meteor Shower, which runs from Apr. 17 through May 28. Sky conditions that night will optimize viewing ability and up to 60 sightings per hour are expected.
May 24 marks what Space.com calls "perhaps the most dramatic sky event of 2014." In the early hours of Saturday, May 24, Earth is expected to travel through a large number of trails left behind by comet P/209 LINEAR.
"This unusual cosmic interaction might result in an amazing, albeit brief, display of meteors, popularly known as 'shooting stars'," Rao said. "There could be many dozens, or even hundreds, of meteors per hour."
August: On Aug. 14 the full moon will arrive at its closest point to the Earth in 2014. This full moon will be only 221,765 miles away, thus garnering it the moniker of "Supermoon."
Aug. 12 marks the peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower, a favorite among stargazers. Unfortunately, however, this year the viewing capacity of the Perseids will be hindered by a nearly full moon. This meteor shower runs from August 17 - 24 and at its peak on Aug. 12 it may be possible to catch sight up of up to 60 meteors per hour.
October: On Oct. 8 the second total lunar eclipse of the year will occur, visible to the western half of North America, Hawaii, eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and the eastern half of Australia. Across central and eastern North America the moon will set while entirely covered by Earth's shadow. This eclipse is expected to last one hour.
On Oct. 19 the comet C/2013 A1 will have an extremely close encounter as it passes almost dangerously close to mars. NASA estimates that the distance between these two celestial bodies will be only 68,000 miles and there is a 1 in 8,000 chance of a collision. According to Space.com, this near collision is expected to create a huge shower of meteors as seen by the surface of Mars.
On Oct. 23 the moon's penumbral shadow will cover much of North America and eastern Siberia, producing a partial solar eclipse.
November: The Leonids Meteor Shower will occur from Nov. 6 - 30 and will peak overnight on the 17th. Although this year only 15 meteor sightings per hour are expected, hundreds of sightings were reported in 2001. The next time such a high level of activity is expected will not occur until 2034.
December: The Geminid Meteor Shower, another favorite among stargazers, many of whom say it is the best meteor shower of the year, will run from Dec. 7 through Dec. 17. The Geminids will peak overnight on the 13th, with up to 120 sightings per hour. To add to the fanfare, the meteors in this year's Geminid show will appear multi-colored. Unfortunately, the light from the moon will wash out much of the highly anticipated astral performance.
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