If you are passionate about the night sky and space exploration, you should start planning now because 2021 will be full of exciting and beautiful astronomical events for all to enjoy and appreciate.
You can look forward to shy planets, nearby galaxies, total lunar eclipses, annular lunar eclipses, meteor showers, two Mars landing missions, and even the launch of a new space telescope that will allow us to see the universe in ways we have never seen before.
From a once-in-a-year spectacle to a phenomenon you never tire of seeing. Get ready to enjoy.
- A peek at Mercury
If you’ve never seen Mercury, the smallest planet in our solar system, it will be closest to the Sun on January 24, which is when you’re most likely to see it.
If you have good eyesight, you may see it at the western horizon, but having a pair of binoculars will help even more.
Mercury takes 88 days to revolve around the Sun, and we won’t be able to see it most of the time because it’s so good at hiding in the sunlight.
But at the end of January, Mercury will be in a cycle known as “semi-phase,” where only 50% of it will be illuminated by the Sun. So this is the best chance of the year to see it and enjoy it!
- Deep Sky Objects in the Southern Hemisphere
Stargazing south of the equator is a precious treat for amateur and professional astronomers alike.
For the uninitiated, the light bands of the Milky Way are clear and bright here, and can sometimes even be seen as a star-studded rainbow, forming an unbroken arch that gathers multi-colored lines refracted from different horizons.
Bart Bok, a Dutch-American astronomer, famously said, “The southern hemisphere has all the good things. “
He and his astronomer wife, Priscilla Fairfield, have made major discoveries about the structure and evolution of our galaxy.
From this side of the planet, anyone can look with the naked eye at globular clusters (where gravity binds globular planets together), galaxies beyond our own, and nebulae ……
Also check out Cruz, aka the Southern Cross, which is the smallest of the 88 clusters, but one of the most unique.
To the east of Cruz, you can also see the Coal Bag Nebula, where new stars are constantly being born.
Right next to the Coal Bag is the Jewel Box Cluster: a unique group of about 100 red, blue, and white stars, easily seen with a simple pair of binoculars.
- Northern Hemisphere Winter Deep Sky
Winter nights are particularly long, which gives stargazers more time to brave the cold and immerse themselves in the night sky.
Choose a dark night, preferably on February 11, when there will be a new moon (if the moon is not visible, its light will not interfere with your plans), and try to train your eyes to see places that are not as obvious.
This is your way of trying to spot some deep sky objects such as the Pleiades.
Also known as the “Seven Sisters”, this beautiful star cluster is very bright and can be seen in urban areas, but you need to know which direction to look and turn your eyes to the south after sunset.
If you are more ambitious, try looking for the Andromeda Galaxy, the nearest major galaxy to our own Milky Way, which is only 2.5 million light years away.
When observing in a place free of light pollution, you can look west just after sunset and see the Andromeda Galaxy with the naked eye, in the vicinity of the cluster of the same name.
If you are a beginner in astronomy, or want to learn to identify just one constellation, do a little something that you can do in both the northern and southern hemispheres.
Orion is easy to identify in winter, in the southwestern sky if you are in the northern hemisphere, and in the northwestern sky if you are in the southern hemisphere (ideally between 85 degrees and minus 75 degrees latitude, to be exact).
The name of this unique star cluster comes from the fact that it is shaped like a “hunter”, with an hourglass-like shape and even a belt made of three bright stars and a faintly visible sword.
A closer look at the dagger reveals that its components are not planets, but the Orion Nebula, which has given birth to many new stars.
Orion’s shoulders do not disappoint, consisting of the red four stars of Sensua and the blue five stars of Sensua. And one foot is made of the blue-white supergiant planet Rigel.
But remember, when looking for prey in the southern hemisphere, the hunter is upside down, as if doing cartwheels, rather than chasing prey.
- landing on mars
This year, we can expect to see not one, but two separate missions to Mars.
NASA is expected to land the Trailblazer Mars rover, along with the witty unmanned helicopter, on the red planet on February 18.
The mobile science lab is equipped with a series of cameras that will record the complex landing and allow the study of Martian soil.
It will look for traces of past and present life and test some new technologies carried out for future human missions.
In April, China’s Astronomy 1 lander and rover will also go to Mars, tasked with finding the water layer underneath and paving the way for potential samples to be brought back to Earth later. The China National Space Administration will be the second space agency to conduct a mission on Mars after NASA.
- Meteor showers
Every year, the sky provides us with several meteor showers that are “really worth seeing,” says Greenwich astronomer Grey Brown of the Royal Observatory.
As the Earth orbits, it passes through clouds of dust left by the various comets and asteroids in our solar system.
This is good news for us because when this debris hits our atmosphere, it produces a series of bright spots in the night sky.
The best way to enjoy nature’s fireworks is to wait until after midnight, late at night, to get to the least light-polluted areas.
The larger the sky you see, the better, so be prepared to lie on the ground and wait.
With enough time and a little bit of luck, you can see a meteor every minute or two at the height of the shooting season,” Brown says. With a little more luck, your eyes will get used to the darkness and you’ll have a great view of the seasonal planets as a backdrop. “
The Aquarius meteor shower will peak on May 4, one of two meteor showers produced by the famous Halley’s comet,” Brown said. “
The next notable meteor shower will be the Perseid meteor shower (Aug. 11), but seeing the best of 2021 will have to wait until the end of the year.
The Geminids (Dec. 13) “are debris produced by asteroids rather than comets, causing most of the meteors to be more colorful because of the material they burn in the atmosphere, similar to the material of a typical firework,” Brown said.
If you want to be well prepared for 2022, write “Quadrantid meteor shower” in your diary, as it will peak within a few days of the start of the New Year.
- Total Lunar Eclipse
On May 26, the Moon will be covered by the shadow of the Earth.
Those observing from the Pacific Rim (the geographic area surrounding the Pacific Ocean) will be able to fully view the entire eclipse.
The best viewing spot will be Hawaii, as it will occur when the moon is high in the sky late at night, while areas further south or north will only be able to see some phases of the eclipse before moonset.
- Annular Solar Eclipse
On June 10, the Moon will shadow the Sun, but this will not be a normal solar eclipse.
This time, the Moon is only 404,300 kilometers from Earth, which means that the Moon’s shadow, will not be large enough to completely cover the Sun.
Instead, an annular lunar eclipse will occur as the moon passes in front of the star, leaving a fiery red ring.
Remember, never look directly at the Sun, and using proper protection, such as eclipse glasses, you will be able to observe this unusual phenomenon from Canada, Northwest Greenland, Northeast Siberia …… and hopefully anywhere in the world (via the Internet).
- planetary rushes
Since all the planets in our solar system revolve around the Sun, sometimes the Earth is directly between the Sun and another planet: this is what astronomers call a “planetary impact”.
The nearest planet to Earth can be seen with the naked eye, but planetary rushes offer the best opportunity to observe them,” says astronomer Dhara Patel of the Royal Observatory Greenwich. “
Saturn and Jupiter will have planetary oppositions on Aug. 2 and 20, respectively,” Patel said. They will also be “closer to us than at any other time this year. “
If you have a telescope (binoculars are available), you’ll have the opportunity to look toward the equator at about 1 a.m. and “observe the provisions of Jupiter’s atmosphere and Saturn’s rings at the same time when the two stars are at their brightest,” Patel said.
- James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) Launch
If there’s one event that will tickle astronomers’ fancy, it’s the launch of the James Webb Space Telescope, or JWST, which is expected to take place Oct. 31.
Ed Bloomer, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, said JWST is in orbit after a month-long journey, and the process of getting it into space is complicated because the telescope is too big to squeeze onto existing rockets to be modified, but it will bring a new era of infrared light to astronomy.
It is very exciting, he said, because it will allow scientists to “study very early stars and galaxies, planet formation processes, galactic evolution and more. “
It’s not quite right to see it as a replacement for the Hubble Space Telescope, which has been in use for decades, but “it represents the next generation of engineering and will be a mainstay of the international astronomy community for years to come,” Blumer said. “
The astronomer said he hopes the JWST will provide much-anticipated new images that will rival the already good images produced in infrared astronomy today, and even continue to get better from that level.