Top 10 astronomy events of 2021: From Quadrantids Meteor Shower to wolf moon, these are dates to watch
Follow this meteor shower calendar for the best dates
There is always something interesting happening in the sky and 2021 is no exception. Check out the dates for some of the most noteworthy sky events next year.
Quadrantids Meteor Shower
Expected date: January 3/4
The Quadrantids, which peak during early-January each year, are considered to be one of the best annual meteor showers. Most meteor showers have a two-day peak, which makes catching sight of these other meteors much more possible. The Quadrantids peak, on the other hand, is much shorter — only a few hours. In 2021, the Quadrantids is expected to peak on the night between January 3-4. During its peak, 60 to as many as 200 Quadrantid meteors can be seen every hour under perfect conditions. They are best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere during the night and predawn hours. Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid: asteroid 2003 EH1, which takes 5.52 years to orbit the sun once.
Expected date: January 28
The first full moon of the year is also referred to as the Wolf Moon, the Ice Moon and the Moon after Yule. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. “The Maine Farmer's Almanac first published Indian names for the full Moons in the 1930s. According to this almanac, the Algonquin tribes of what is now the northern and eastern US named the full Moon in January or the first full Moon of winter the Wolf Moon, from the packs of wolves that howled hungrily outside the villages amid the cold and deep snows of winter,” explains NASA.
Lyrids Meteor Shower
Expected date: April 22, 23
The Lyrids, which peak during late April, is one of the oldest known meteor showers. They have been observed for 2,700 years. The pieces of space debris that interact with the Earth’s atmosphere to create the Lyrids originate from comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which was discovered in April 1861 by A E Thatcher. The Lyrids are known for their fast and bright meteors, and 10-20 Lyrid meteors can be seen per hour during their peak. Lyrids frequently leave glowing dust trains behind them as they streak through the Earth’s atmosphere, which can be seen for several seconds. In 2021, they are expected to peak on the night between April 22-23.
Pink Moon, Super Moon
Expected date: April 27
A supermoon occurs when the Moon’s orbit is closest (perigee) to Earth at the same time it is full. The Moon orbits Earth in an ellipse, an oval that brings it closer to and farther from Earth as it goes around. Its closest point is the perigee, which is an average distance of about 226,000 miles (363,300 kilometers) from Earth. When a full moon appears at perigee it is slightly brighter and larger than a regular full moon — and that is why it is referred to as a supermoon. 2021 will see two Super Full Moons — on April 26/27 and May 26. The Full Moon in April is traditionally known as Pink Moon and the Full Moon in May is called the Flower Moon in many Northern Hemisphere cultures.
Eta Aquarid Meteors
Expected date: May 5/6
The Eta Aquarids peak during early-May each year. Eta Aquarid meteors are known for their speed. These meteors are fast — traveling at about 148,000 mph (66 km/s) into Earth’s atmosphere. The Eta Aquarids are viewable in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres during the pre-dawn hours. In 2021, the Eta Aquarids will peak on the night between May 5-6. In general, 30 Eta Aquarid meteors can be seen per hour during their peak. The pieces of space debris that interact with our atmosphere to create the Eta Aquarids originate from comet 1P/Halley. Comet Halley, discovered in 1705 by Edmund Halley, takes about 76 years to orbit the sun once. The last time comet Halley was seen by casual observers was in 1986. Comet Halley will not enter the inner solar system again until 2061.
Total Lunar Eclipse
Expected date: May 26
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Moon and Sun are on opposite sides of Earth. Although the moon is in Earth’s shadow, some sunlight reaches the moon. The sunlight passes through Earth’s atmosphere, which causes Earth’s atmosphere to filter out most of the blue light. This makes the moon appear red to people on Earth. This total lunar eclipse of the super flower Moon will be visible from Australia, parts of the western US, western South America, and South-East Asia.
Annual Solar Eclipse
Expected date: June 10
Sometimes when the moon orbits Earth, it moves between the sun and Earth. When this happens, the moon blocks the light of the sun from reaching Earth. This causes an eclipse of the Sun or solar eclipse. During a solar eclipse, the moon casts a shadow onto Earth. People in northern Canada, parts of Greenland and northeastern parts of Russia will be treated to the “ring of fire” that annular solar eclipses are famous for as the New Moon covers only the center of the Sun. If weather permits, a partial eclipse will be visible in Northern Asia, Europe and the US.
Expected date: August 12, 13
Caused by debris left behind by the Comet Swift-Tuttle, they are often considered to be one of the best meteor showers of the year due to its high rates and pleasant late-summer temperatures. With very fast and bright meteors, Perseids frequently leave long ‘wakes’ of light and color behind them as they streak through Earth’s atmosphere. About 50-100 meteors seen per hour. They occur every year between July 17 and August 24 and tend to peak around August 9-13. In 2021, they are expected to peak on the night of August 12 and the morning of August 13. Discovered in 1862 by Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle, it is a large comet and its nucleus is 16 miles (26 kilometers) across.
October meteor showers
Expected date: October 8/9 for Draconid Meteor Shower and October 20/21 for Orionid shower
Every 6.6 years Comet Giacobini-Zinner swings through the inner solar system. With each visit, it lays down a narrow filament of dust, over time forming a network of filaments that Earth encounters every year in early October. This is known as the Draconid meteors. The Orionids is the second meteor shower in October and it usually peaks around October 21. Orionid meteors appear every year around this time when Earth travels through an area of space littered with debris from Halley’s Comet.
Geminids Meteor Shower
Expected date: December 13, 14
The second week of December is the beginning of the strongest meteor shower of the year. According to NASA, the Geminids first began appearing in the mid-1800s. “However, the first showers were not noteworthy with only 10 - 20 meteors seen per hour. Since that time, the Geminids have grown to become one of the most major showers of the year. During its peak, 120 Geminid meteors can be seen per hour under perfect conditions. The Geminids are bright and fast meteors and tend to be yellow,” it explains. The Geminids originate from an asteroid, 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered on October 11, 1983, by the Infrared Astronomical Satellite.