Your 2021 Sky Event Planner

All Ready to View by Twitter user Simon Brown. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Tele Vue-NP101is with Tele Vue 2x Powermate and 3-6mm Nagler Planetary Zoom attached to Gibraltar HD4 mount. Tilton on the Hill, Leicester, UK.
A New Year means a fresh opportunity for viewing new targets and old friends in the sky. Start marking up those new 2021 calendars with this year’s astronomical events listed in this week’s blog!

Messier Marathon
Composite image of Messier Marathon Checklist over Messier Object images. Messier objects by Michael A. Phillips (CC BY 4.0, Link)

SaturNday, March 13th will be the best time for northern temperate zone observers to spot all 110 Messier objects in one night.  To be a successful “marathoner,” you need to pick the right evening, have clear weather, good site selection, and a manually driven observing setup capable of wide fields of view. SEDS.org has some Messier Marathon Tips on accomplishing a successful “run.”

Supermoons & Micromoons 
Full Moons that occur around the time of lunar “perigee,” when the Moon is closest to Earth, are bigger and brighter than usual. We call these Supermoons.  (Note that sources differ on how close to the “perigee” location our natural satellite must be when it turns full for it to quality as “Super.”) There will be three Supermoons in a row for 2021:  April 27thMay 26th (also a Total Lunar Eclipse — see below),  and June 24th.

Simulated Micro and Super Moons.  Simulated image created from Paul Cyr’s Tele Vue-NP101is image of November 2016 Supermoon.

The opposite of a Supermoon is a Micromoon: this happens when the Moon becomes full near orbital “apogee” — the furthest point from Earth. Micromoons will happen on the following full Moons this year: November 19th (also a Partial Lunar Eclipse— see below),  and December 18th.
 
If you could compare the extremes of Supermoon to Micromoon side-by-side in the sky, you’d find the Supermoon 14% greater in diameter and 30% brighter than its smaller twin. It’s a neat project to image both types of moons with the same equipment/camera settings and then composite the images. You’ll have a permanent record of how the Moon varies in size and brightness to show your friends.
 
Air China A332 crossing the Moon (crop) by Instagram user Kacper Lechwar. Copyright Kacper Lechwar. Used by permission. Air China Airbus A330-243 is captured poking its nose into the Sea of Serenity as it crosses the face of the Moon. Imaged using 254mm / 1200mm Dobsonian telescope with Tele Vue 2x Powermate and Canon 1200D / EOS Rebel T5 camera.
Blue Moon

The full Moons of the northern hemisphere’s summer are on June 24th (Strawberry Moon), July 23rd (Buck Moon), August 22nd (Sturgeon Moon), and September 20th (Harvest Moon). Since there are four Full Moons over the course of the season, the August 22nd Moon is also referred to as the Seasonal Blue Moon. (Not to be confused with the Blue Moon designation for the second full Moon in a month). A Seasonal Blue Moon occurs in about intervals of 2.7 years. 

 
Lunar Eclipses

The May 26th Supermoon will coincide with a Total Lunar Eclipse. Greatest Eclipse will be at 11:18:40 UT. The complete event will be visible throughout the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean and parts of eastern Asia, Japan, the eastern two-thirds of Australia, and the western part of Alaska. Part of this over three-hour event will be visible from most of the Americas, India, China, and south-east Asia. 

Lunar Eclipse by flickr user Dan Ward. All rights reserved. Used by permission. 2019 Total Lunar Eclipse using Tele Vue-85, Tele Vue 2x Powermate, and a Nikon D610 DSLR camera.

A Partial Lunar Eclipse will coincide with the November 19th Micromoon. Don’t think you should skip viewing the event because it’s “only a partial.” It’s not “total” because just a tiny sliver of the Moon will escape contact with the deepest part of Earth’s shadow, while being well within the lighter Penumbral shadow. Greatest eclipse will be at 09:02:53 UT. Again the Pacific waters are favored for the full-show, but so are most of North America and Siberia. Part of the event will be visible in Central and South America, West Africa, Northern, Western, and Central Europe, Australia, Japan, the Philippines, China, and the eastern side of India. 

Solar Events
There are two solar eclipses this year.

(c) 2000 A. T. Sinclair from eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov.

The June 10th  event is an Annular Solar Eclipse. This means the Moon will not fully obscure the solar disk and it is NOT SAFE to view the Sun without a filter even at greatest eclipse. It also means the  Sun’s corona will not be visible.  The greatest eclipse path is mostly in the far northern latitudes. confined to extreme eastern Russia, the Arctic Ocean, the North Pole, western Greenland, and Ontario Canada. Greatest eclipse will be at 10:41:51 UT. A partial eclipse will be visible in the eastern United States, northern Alaska, northern and eastern Canada, Greenland, Europe, Russia, and Mongolia. If all goes well, this may be the first post-COVID-19  eclipse-chasing event!

2017-08-21 Solar Eclipse HDR by flickr user Andrew Thomas. All rights reserved. Used by permission. Imaged with Tele Vue-76mm APO refractor with Nikon D7100 DSLR camera riding on an iOptron iEQ45 Pro mount. Capture software was Eclipse Orchestrator v3.7. Four sets of exposures at 1/1600, 1/400, 1/100, 1/25, 1/6, 1/3, and 6/10 sec @ ISO 200, stacked to reduce noise and enhance detail. Location: Madras, Oregon.

The second event is the Total Solar Eclipse on December 4th at the pole opposite the June event.  The path of totality for this eclipse will be limited to Antarctica and the surrounding oceans. A partial eclipse envelopes the waters south of Australia, South America, and Africa.

The Planets
The big planetary event is the July 13th Conjunction of Mars and Venus. Their paths will make an actual cross in the sky. At closest approach, they will be around 28-arc-minutes apart (about the size of full-Moon) in the west after sunset. Two days before they’ll be a degree apart and two days after they’ll be a 1½° apart — so they’ll not linger together for long.

Mars and Venus conjunction in July 2021. Numbers are dates in July. Adopted from TheSkyX Pro ©2014 Software Bisque, Inc.

Opposition dates (rising at sunset) for the outer planets are as follows:

      • August 2nd: Saturn
      • August 19th: Jupiter
      • September 14th: Neptune
      • November 5th: Uranus
Bright Comets
Newly discovered C/2021 A1 (Leonard) “might” be the brightest comet of the year barring any brighter discoveries. The current guesstimate is that it will be a visual target at the closest approach to Earth on December 12, 2021. In-bound it will be a northern hemisphere, pre-dawn target and then find itself in southern hemisphere skies. 

 

We wish that your 2021 will be full of clear skies and all these events will find you in good health.

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