2021's Top Stargazing Events Include a Ring of Fire Eclipse, Meteor Showers & More
Mark your calendars for these stargazing events.
The night sky ended 2020 with a bang—and, no, we're not talking about all the manmade fireworks. December alone gave us a total solar eclipse, stunning meteor showers, and even a super-rare great conjunction. And now, fresh off all of the excitement, stargazers are turning to what's in store for 2021.
The good news is that there are tons of spectacular stargazing events coming this year that should convince you to take your social distancing hobby of stargazing into what will hopefully be a post-social distancing world by the end of 2021. Over the next several months, you're going to find meteor showers, conjunctions, and eclipses, including a total lunar eclipse that lands on the same night as a supermoon. There's always something to see in the night sky, and some truly must-see moments are coming up this year.
Here are the stargazing events in 2021 that you should not miss.
January 21: Mars and the Moon Come Together
The moon and Mars will have a close pass in the evening sky, just after sunset in the southeast sky. You should be able to spot the red planet next to the night sky's brightest object until around midnight local time. If you are able to use a telescope, you'll also see Uranus near Mars and the moon as well.
April 21-22: The Lyrid Meteor Shower
It's been a long time since the Quadrantids came and went back in early January. That was the last time we got a significant meteor shower. Bill Cooke of NASA's Meteoroid Environment Office tells Thrillist to expect 10-20 meteors per hour with the Lyrids this year.
Unfortunately, a first-quarter moon is going to cause some interference for anyone looking early in the night. Your best bet is to look for the Lyrids in the few hours before dawn on the morning of April 22.
May 5: Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
The shower that generates from the debris of Halley's Comet could produce up to 40 meteors per hour in 2021. However, the meteors are faint. That means you really need to get to dark skies to see all of the visible meteors from the Eta Aquarids.
"You've got a last-quarter moon. So, you want to start observing around 2 am and go to dawn," Cooke says. "The Eta Aquarids are very faint. They require a good dark sky. They're kind of an out in the boondocks country meteor shower."
May 26: Total Lunar Eclipse & Supermoon
One of the big events of the year will be a total lunar eclipse that arrives on the same night as a supermoon. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the Earth's shadow. This one lands on the second of three straight supermoons. Unlike a total solar eclipse, which has a brief window of totality, a total lunar eclipse's window of totality can last for hours. The moon will turn an orangish-red hue as it passes through the Earth's shadow.
A supermoon occurs when a full moon happens as the moon is at its nearest approach during its oval-shaped orbit. That means the moon will appear larger than usual—a pretty nice overlap with a lunar eclipse.
There is, however, a bit of bad news. If you live in the eastern part of the US, you're not going to catch this. In the Sky's graphics show that very little will be visible on the East Coast, with a bit of the event visible in central time zones, and the early part of the total eclipse visible in areas like Denver. On the West Coast, you'll be able to see the entire event. The partial eclipse begins 2:45 am PDT and totality arrives at 4:12 am.
June 10: Ring of Fire Solar Eclipse
Redemption for stargazers on the East Coast comes just a couple of weeks after the total solar eclipse. An annular solar eclipse—also called a "ring of fire" eclipse—will land in early June. This isn't a total solar eclipse because a smaller moon passes in front of the sun, leaving a blazing ring around the shadow of the moon.
The complete ring of fire will only be visible through parts of Canada, Greenland, and Russia. A partial eclipse will be visible in the northeastern US and a small part of the Midwest. No part of the US will have 100% coverage per Time and Date, which has a map of where you'll be able to see parts of the eclipse as the sun rises on the morning of June 10.
August 11-12: Perseid Meteor Shower
"This year," Cooke says, "they'll probably be the best meteor shower of the year." That's often the case. The Perseids arrive with great weather and the potential to produce up to 100 meteors an hour. It's also a display that's rich in fireballs, which are meteors that burn brightly as they crash through Earth's atmosphere. Go out around 11 pm on August 11. That's when you'll start to see a good number of meteors streaking across the sky. "You'll also have good rates on the night of August 12," Cooke notes. "Personally, though, I'd go out on the night of August 11."
December 4: Total Solar Eclipse
Like the total solar eclipse in 2020, this won't be visible in North America. You'll be able to see partial eclipses in southern Africa and the south Atlantic, per EclipseWise. The path of totality is only going to be seen in Antarctica. If we're able to safely travel again by the end of 2021, there will definitely be treks to the bottom of the planet to see the event. For most of us, however, we'll only be able to watch it online.
December 13-14: Geminid Meteor Shower
Alongside the Perseids, the Geminids are always one to keep your eye on. This year, they're expected to show off more than 100 meteors per hour. Like others on this list, though, there are lunar obstacles.
"On the night of the peak, the moon will set around 2 am," Cooke says. "So, you'll have from 2 am to dawn to see the Geminids in all their glory. Normally, you can start seeing Geminids just a couple of hours after sunset."
Earlier in the evening, the moon will wash out the fainter Geminids. You'll still be able to see the fireballs that come along with the shower, but to get the full effect, you'll want to wait until late at night or early in the morning to go meteor hunting.