Don't Miss These 7 Must-See Stargazing and Celestial Events in 2021
Due to all that sheltering in place during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us spent a great deal of time indoors last year. Still, that didn't stop serious stargazers from stepping outside for a few minutes to catch some of 2020’s many awe-inspiring celestial events, from an incredible view of Mars in October and a blue moon on Halloween night to December’s "Great Conjunction" of Jupiter and Saturn. As far as the stars go, 2021 has quite a few noteworthy celestial events up its figurative sleeve as well. Afraid you’ll miss them? Well, grab your calendar and jot down the year’s best and brightest.
February 11: The Venus-Jupiter Conjunction
Get ready to wake up early if you want to see two of the sky’s brightest planets get a little closer. In fact, Venus and Jupiter will be so close together on February 11 that you'll be able to see both planets at the same time while looking through a simple garden telescope.
However, they won't be decorating the night skies. Instead, the best time to catch a glimpse of this conjunction will be 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise. If you’re viewing them from the Northern Hemisphere, they'll be pretty low in the sky at that point, and, after that sweet spot, the sun will likely wash out your view completely. Those in the Southern Hemisphere will fare slightly better: The planets will be positioned farther from the sun and higher in the sky.
March 9-10: The Quadruple Formation
As March 9 becomes March 10, those of us looking up toward the southeast will get to witness the Quadruple Formation — so long as skies remain clear. So, what’s the Quadruple Formation? Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn align almost perfectly, made all the better by a nearby crescent moon. A grand cosmic sight indeed!
Each planet in this alignment will be shining bright, though Mercury will be the faintest and Jupiter the most brilliant. You won't need a telescope to see them either as they'll be easy to catch with the naked eye.
May 26: “Blood Moon” Total Lunar Eclipse
If you happen to be on the western side of North or South America, Southeast Asia, or Australia on the night of May 26, you'll be lucky enough to see the moon turn red during the total lunar eclipse. In this type of celestial event, the sun, moon and Earth align perfectly, causing the Earth’s shadow to completely cover the face of the moon.
A dark grayish color will appear when the eclipse is in its partial phase, slowly transforming to a red-orange color during the total eclipse. It will be especially worth it to stay up late for this "Blood Moon" total lunar eclipse since it’s occurring when the moon is closest in its orbit to Earth. Translation: It will appear larger and brighter than a regular full moon, making it a supermoon. Keeping with the drama, the event has a very specific timeline. It begins at 1:44am PST and ends at 3:25 am PST.
July 12: The Venus-Mars Conjunction
Just after sunset on July 12, Venus and Mars will be so close together in the sky that it’ll seem like they’re touching. But that’s not all. These brilliant, shining planets will be joined by a crescent moon, which will make the conjunction all the more spectacular.
In particular, Venus will be bright as can be, potentially overshadowing the slightly fainter Mars at first. But, after looking up at the planets for a few moments your eyes will adjust, and the two planets will become more distinct from one another.
August 11, 12 & 13: The Perseid Meteor Shower
The peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower will take place on August 12 and 13, which is when Earth will be moving through the debris coming off of the Swift-Tuttle comet. On an average year, the Perseids produce as many as 60 shooting stars per hour. Scientists are saying 2021 will be an amazing year for Perseids because the sky will be practically moonless, with only the tiniest sliver showing.
Based on timing, northern hemisphere viewers will get the best show, and, although the meteor shower will be visible from the southern hemisphere as well, the action will take place closer to the horizon, making for a less exciting (and less visible) scene. The later it gets, the more meteors will shoot across the sky, so we recommend catching the Perseids after midnight.
October 8: The Draconid Meteor Shower
Meteor showers are fun to watch, especially when the titular meteors are plentiful. The Draconid meteor shower, which will occur on October 8, will have the same nearly moonless sky as the Perseids. Sometimes this annual meteor shower is a snooze, with just a few meteors shooting across the sky each hour — but, other years, it’s one of the best celestial events on offer.
Back in 1933 and 1946, stargazers saw thousands of shooting stars per hour. As recently as 2011, observers in Europe saw more than 600 per hour. The best time to catch the Draconids will be between nightfall and midnight. Gaze toward the northwest and it won't be hard to spot these slower-moving meteors.
December 4: Total Eclipse of the Sun
To close out 2021, folks in the southern hemisphere should get their eclipse glasses ready. While the total solar eclipse will only be visible from Antarctica, a partial eclipse will be visible from certain parts of Australia as well as Argentina, Chile, Namibia and South Africa.
When viewing a partial solar eclipse, you’ll notice that it’ll look like a small chunk of the sun is missing — right where the moon’s obscuring it. While most of us won’t be able to travel down to Antarctica for the event, those who are stationed at the so-called bottom of the world on December 4 will be able to see the moon cover the sun in totality for a few minutes.