The New Year promises a pair of lunar disappearing acts and a potential surprise meteor shower, among other celestial delights.
While scores of amazing astronomical phenomena are in the offing, here are our picks for sky-watching events worth circling on your calendar for 2014.
1. Total Eclipse of the Moon
This year sky-watchers will have two chances to witness the simplest and most widely shared of sky shows—a total lunar eclipse. In the predawn hours of Tuesday, April 15, the lunar disk will be slowly blanketed by the dark shadow of Earth, as our planet moves between the sun and the moon.
Totality, or total coverage of the moon, begins at 7:06 a.m. GMT (3:06 a.m. EST). The entire event will be visible from the Western Hemisphere, including both North and South America. The eclipse will not be visible from northern and eastern Europe, eastern Africa, the Middle East, or Central Asia.
Sky-watchers will get another chance to witness the moon blush red on Wednesday, October 8, when another total lunar eclipse will be visible from the Pacific Ocean. Only the northwest part of North America gets to see the entire show. For the rest of the continent and South America, only partial phases occur before moonset. Meanwhile, all stages of the eclipse will be seen from New Zealand and the eastern quarter of Australia. The lunar event will not be observable from Europe, Africa, or the Middle East.
2. Comet LINEAR Meteor Shower
If sky-watchers get lucky, they may witness a powerful meteor outburst on May 23 and 24. Over the last two centuries, Comet 209P/LINEAR has likely shed a great deal of dusty debris. Some experts predict Earth will plow through the comet’s enriched dust trail this year.
Orbital models, as a result, are forecasting a strong possibility of shooting star rates reaching 100 to 400 per hour. Luckily, a waning crescent moon will wait until dawn to rise, making for ideal sky conditions for meteor watching.
3. Triple Moon Conjunction
On two occasions this year the moon will huddle with bright planets and stars in the heavens—making for truly eye-catching sky formations. First, on the evening of Saturday, July 5, the waxing gibbous moon will appear to wedge itself between the blue-white star Spica and ruddy Mars, low in the southwest sunset sky. The apparent separation between the moon and the red planet will be unusually tight, with the pair appearing less than 30 arc minutes apart, equal to the width of the full moon disk.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the moon and planets will appear to huddle together on July 6 and 7 high in the northeast sky.
On Sunday, August 31, an even more striking triangular pattern will appear when the crescent moon will join Mars and Saturn at dusk. All three worlds will easily fit into a binocular field of view.
For Southern Hemisphere observers, the same trio will appear high in the west on both August 31 and September 1.
4. Jupiter-Venus Conjunction
At dawn on Monday, August 18 and 19 (Southern Hemisphere), early-bird sky-watchers around the globe get a chance to see a superclose encounter between two of the brightest planets in our skies, Venus and Jupiter. The two starlike worlds will appear to pass by each other within 20 arc minutes—only two-thirds the width of the full moon.
5. Partial Solar Eclipse
On Thursday, October 23, a partial eclipse of the sun will be visible across much of North America at around 5:21 p.m. EST (9:46 p.m. GMT). Much of North America will be treated to a partial eclipse. A sunset eclipse will be visible from the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada (except for the far northeast).
Vancouver will see 65 percent, San Francisco 50 percent, Denver 55 percent, Toronto 44 percent, and New York 15 percent of the sun disappear behind the moon’s silhouette at maximum eclipse.
Happy New Year! Stay tuned for another great year of sky-watching in 2014. For more sky events check out our weekly sky-watching column.