ORLANDO, Fla. – Fresh off the Great Conjunction between Jupiter and Saturn in December, you may be looking ahead to the next big sky-watching event. Here are the top reasons to look up in the new year.
Jupiter/Mercury Conjunction (March 5)
Jupiter will be involved in another conjunction, this time with the smallest planet in our solar system. Jupiter and Mercury will make their closest approach on the morning of Mar. 5 prior to sunrise.
“It will be neat to see the largest and smallest planet get close in our sky from Earth’s perspective,” said Seth Mayo, curator of astronomy at the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Daytona Beach.
Saturn will hang out high in the sky far removed from the conjunction. The conjunction will take place in the eastern sky.
Total Lunar Eclipse (May 26)
May’s total lunar eclipse will be the first total lunar eclipse in the Americas in more than two years. A lunar eclipse occurs when Earth moves in between the Sun and Moon.
Earth’s shadow is then cast on the Moon. In a total lunar eclipse, the moon turns a red, rusty color, often referred to as a blood moon. The Moon turns red as the light from the sun passes through the edges of the Earth and scatters red, like at sunrise or sunset. That light is also refracted, projecting the red light on the Moon.
In Central Florida, it will be a partial lunar eclipse as the Moon will set prior to totality. The eclipse gets underway at 5:44 a.m.
“It’ll be a very dramatic sight because the moon will be setting for us while it’s still partially eclipsed,” said Dr. Yan Fernandez, a professor with the the Department of Physics at the University of Central Florida. “We won’t see totality but having the Moon hanging above the horizon with a bite taken out of it is pretty neat to see.”
The Moon sets just after 6:30 a.m. as the eclipse continues.
A second lunar eclipse will be visible in November.
“It will technically be partial but it will be a very deep partial, so just about as good as a total,” said Fernandez.
Venus and Mars together (Mid-July)
Venus and Mars will visible in the same telescope field of view on July 12 and 13. The Moon will be nearby on the evening prior to the 12 and 13. Look to the western sky after sunset as the planets will be setting below the horizon.
Perseid Meteor Shower (Aug 11)
One of the best annual meteor showers of the year is going to get a boost with the help of the Moon, or lack thereof.
“The crescent Moon will have already set by the late evening on the peak, so its light pollution shouldn’t interfere with the meteor shower,” Mayo said.
The shower will peak on the nights of Aug 11 and 12. 50-75 meteors per hour will be likely away from city lights.
Partial lunar eclipse (Nov 19)
November’s lunar eclipse will be partial, meaning the Earth’s shadow will never fully engulf the Moon, but it’s going to be close. In the pre-dawn hours of the 19th, Central Florida will actually see more of the Moon covered than in May’s total eclipse (partial for Central Florida). Like May’s eclipse, this will take part in the early-morning hours, getting under underway at 2:18. The maximum eclipse with most of the Moon in Earth’s shadow occurs at 4:02 a.m.
It’s a little unusual for us to get to see two decent lunar eclipses in a year, said Fernandez. “So that’s something to look forward to.”