Stars in your eyes
This week sees International Astronomy Day, a celebration of the science that allows us to see the history of the universe with our own eyes. And if you fancy a little skywatching yourself, here’s our guide to some of the most noteworthy events that will take place in 2014
28-29 April: A ‘Ring of Fire’ eclipse
It’s quite possible that nobody will actually see the ring phase of this eclipse as it will occur within the uninhabited region of Wilkes Land in Antarctica. However, a partial solar eclipse will be visible from Australia – so head south if you want to see it!
24 May: A (possible) outburst of bright meteors
This could mark the most dramatic sky event in 2014. In the predawn hours of Saturday 24 May our planet is expected to sweep through a great number of dusty trails left behind in space by a small comet (known as P/209 LINEAR).
This unusual cosmic interaction might result in an amazing, albeit brief, display of meteors, popularly known as ‘shooting stars’. There could be many dozens, or even hundreds, of meteors per hour, experts say, so keep your eyes peeled.
10 August: Biggest full moon of 2014
The moon will be at its closest point to the Earth in 2014 at a distance of 221,765 miles (356,896 km), making this a so-called ‘supermoon’. Expect a large range in ocean tides (exceptionally low to exceptionally high) for the next few days.
12 August: The Perseid meteor shower
Unfortunately this one is more of a lowlight than a highlight. The annual summer performance of the brilliant Perseid meteor shower will be severely hindered by the light of a nearly full moon.
18 August: A brilliant double planet
An hour before sunrise, low in the east-northeast sky, the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, will be strikingly close together. The two worlds will be separated by less than two-thirds of the apparent width of the moon in our sky, making for an eye-catching sight.
8 October: Another total lunar eclipse
This eclipse can be see in the western half of North America, the Hawaiian Islands, eastern Asia, Indonesia, New Zealand and the eastern half of Australia. Across central and eastern North America, the moon will set while still completely immersed in Earth’s shadow. The moon will then pass to the north of the centre of the shadow, with the eclipse lasting for up to an hour, so it should be relatively bright, possibly featuring a coppery red hue across the lower part of the moon, contrasted by a brighter upper rim.
Interestingly, during the total phase, binoculars and telescopes will reveal a greenish point of light in the vicinity of the darkened moon – this is actually the planet Uranus. In fact, from central and northern Alaska and northern Canada, the moon will actually occult (hide) Uranus during totality – a very rare event!
19 October: Near collision of a comet with Mars
All eyes will be on the Red Planet in October as Comet C/2013 A1 (Siding Spring) discovered by Robert H. McNaught at Australia’s Siding Spring Observatory, will pass extremely close to Mars. The comet will come so close, in fact, that its cloud of gas and dust may envelop Mars, as well as create a stupendous shower of meteors as seen from the Martian surface.
23 October: A partial eclipse of the sun
The moon’s penumbral shadow will fall over much of North America as well as extreme eastern Siberia, producing a partial solar eclipse. The greatest eclipse, with more than four-fifths of the sun’s diameter covered by the moon, will occur in M’Clintock Channel, an arm of the Arctic Ocean that divides Victoria Island from Prince of Wales Island in the Territory of Nunavut, Canada.
13 December: The Geminid Meteor Shower
This is another lowlight. The Geminids, regarded by many observers as the best of the annual meteor showers, has the misfortune of occurring during the time of a last-quarter moon, which will mean that you won’t be able to see all but the brightest meteors.