This Should Be a Great Year for Observing the Stars, Planets and Meteor Showers

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Perseid Meteor Shower takes place in the summer.

 

If you have a telescope, make plans to study the night sky. Astronomers say there will be a lot of activity in 2021.

First up is the full moon on February 27, which is called the snow moon. According to the Farmer’s Almanac, this month typically is the snowiest month of the year in the United States. Some North American tribes named it the Hunger Moon, because of scarce food sources.

On March 5, just before daybreak on the eastern horizon, there will be a Jupiter-Mercury conjunction. The dots of the two planets will be closer together.

This site (https://www.timeanddate.com/astronomy/night/@11071615) lists which planets are visible in Southern California on a specific date. It lists where they are in the sky and gives tips, such as “Fairly close to the Sun. Visible around sunrise and sunset only.”

There will be three super moons this year: April, May and June. They are called super because the moon looks larger because it is a bit closer to the Earth.

At the end of August, there will be a blue moon, which is the second full moon of the month. At that time Jupiter and Saturn will be at their closest points to Earth and one will be able see those planets. As a bonus, one can see these two planets through the end of 2021.

Griffith Observatory provides a Sky Report every Wednesday, informing us what we can observe in the skies in Southern California. (Visit: http://www.griffithobservatory.org.)

The Observatory notes that there will be three meteor showers this year that should occur with good viewing conditions.

1. LYRIDS: These meteors are particles shed by the comet C/1861 G (Thatcher) and can be seen from April 16 to 26, with the peak night April 21 and 22. Best time to watch the showers is from 10 p.m. to 4:44 a.m. The radiant of the Lyrids is close to the brilliant star Vega in Lyra the Lyre, at the zenith (the point directly overhead) when dawn starts.

2. ETA AQUARIIDS: These are particles shed by comet 1P/Halley from April 19 to May 28, with the peak night May 4 and 5. Best time to see the meteors is 3 a.m. to dawn.

3. PERSEIDS: These meteors are produced by particles shed by comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle and are active from July 17 to August 24, with the peak night August 11/12. The moon sets just as the meteors start to appear, resulting in ideal conditions for viewing the shower at its strongest, 10 p.m. to 4:40 a.m.

The Observatory explains: “The best way to watch a meteor shower is to travel to a wilderness area or campground that has a dark sky. It’s best to choose a night when the moon is not visible during the shower. Most meteor showers are strongest after midnight and until dawn. Dress warmly and lie back on a deck chair or lounge, so you are looking up at the sky. Don’t look at bright lights like flashlights or cell phone displays which can desensitize your eyes for ten minutes or more.”

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