Super moons, meteor showers and other stargazing and astronomy dates in the UK for 2021 – Manchester Evening News

Posted: January 9, 2021 at 3:16 pm

Stargazers are in for a treat throughout 2021 with a packed year of astronomical dates to enjoy.

There's a calendar full of amazing celestial events to look forward to.

From impressive meteor showers, awe-inspiring supermoons and a close-up look at different planets, 2021 has got plenty on offer to appease even the most discerning of observers.

Many, you won't even need any special equipment to experience either. Just find a dark location with minimal light pollution - if restrictions at the time allow - for a front row seat to some of the best natural phenomenon.

Otherwise, get out in the garden and see what you can see.

Grab your diary and make note of some of the biggest and best astronomy events taking place over the next 12 months - all visible from the UK.

January 24

The planet Mercury is known for its unusual non-circular orbit and it's only visible for a few weeks at a time as it's usually drowned out by the glare of the sun.

And in January and February, it will reach its greatest separation from the sun - known as Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation - meaning it will be shining visible in the twilight sky over the UK.

It will reach its optimum point on January 24, and should be visible just after the sun sets. It might be tricky to spot, but there are guides online to help you find where to look.

However in all cases, do not look for Mercury using binoculars until the sun has completely disappeared from the sky due to the risk of permanent sight damage.

March 26

Stargazers won't have to wait too long for the first Super Full Moon of the year - when a full Moon is at its closest point to Earth.

It happens because the planet isn't actually perfectly spherical - and shaped more like an ellipse.

This means that when the moon is closest to the Earth on the same night as a full moon - commonly referred to as a supermoon - it appears as much as 14 percent bigger and 30 per cent brighter in the sky.

The first one of 2021 will be called a Super Worm Moon - because the first or only full moon in March is always known as a Worm Moon, named for the end of winter when worms and other critters typically make their first appearance of the year.

This will be visible in the sky on the night of March 26-27.

April 22 to 23

Those who missed the Quadrantids meteor shower at the start of January will get another chance to catch some shooting stars in the night sky.

April will see the annual Lyrids meteors rain over the UK, which produces around 20 shooting stars an hour at its peak.

The visible meteors are produced by dust particles left behind by comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, which leave bright trails as they graze the Earths upper atmosphere at 110,000 miles per hour.

However this year, the Lyrids coincide with a nearly-full waxing gibbous moon, which means visibility may be blocked by the glare - but it will still be possible to get a decent view of the brightest meteors in the shower if viewing from a dark location free of light pollution after midnight.

The Lyrids Meteor Shower will peak overnight on April 22 - 23, 2021.

April 27

April's full moon will also be a super moon, given its close proximity to the Earth.

This moon is given the moniker the Pink Moon - but stargazers shouldn't be fooled into thinking it will turn a rosy shade.

It's actually named after early blooming pink wildflowers which typically appear around the time of the full moon in April. And this month, the moon will be near its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

April 19 to May 28 (Peaks May 5-6)

This meteor shower looks more spectacular in the southern hemisphere but can still be seen in the north.

It occurs when the Earth passes through debris left behind by Halley's Comet, with the particles burning as they pass through the upper atmosphere.

Stargazers in the northern hemisphere can expect to see about 30 meteors per hour, peaking on the night between May 5 and 6. It is expected to be at its most active at around 3am with up to 50 meteors visible per hour if weather conditions permit.

May 11

The month of May will herald a phenomenon known as a Micromoon - where coincides with apogee, the point in the Moon's orbit farthest away from Earth.

It's essentially the opposite of a Supermoon, and the Micromoon this month is a Micro New Moon - bringing with it the ideal conditions to stargaze.

Because it is further away, it will look much smaller in the sky - and because it appears smaller it may also seem less bright than usual too.

May 26

The full moon in May is known as the Flower Moon, to signify the abundance of wildflowers that begin to bloom throughout the month.

The third of four super moons this year, it will once again be at its closest point to earth, making it seem much bigger and brighter than usual.

June 10

In June, the moon will partially obscure the sun as it passes by Earth in orbit. From around 10am and lasting till around midday, the moon will block out 20 per cent of the sun at maximum eclipse - which will take place at 11.13am GMT.

The safest way to watch this astronomical phenomenon will be to do so via specially manufactured eclipse glasses, or by making a pinhole camera. Never attempt to view an eclipse with the naked eye.

The solar eclipse will be visible from 10am on June 10, 2021.

July 17 to August 24 (Peaks August 12 - 13)

Possibly the brightest meteor shower of the year for those of us in the UK, the Perseids can dazzle stargazers with as many as 100 shooting stars an hour at the peak.

This celestial phenomenon, described as nature's fireworks, is caused as the planet crosses paths with a debris cloud in the solar system left by the giant Swift-Tuttle comet.

As the bits of rock and dust hit our atmosphere at astronomical speed, they burn up and in some cases cause fireballs streaking across the sky.

It's visible between July 17 and August 24 and peaks every year overnight between August 12 and 13. To spot these meteors, you don't need any special equipment as many are visible to the naked eye, but viewing from a dark location away from light pollution is alway recommended for the best view.

August 2 and 19

Saturn that will move to the direct opposite side of the Earth from the Sun in August, making it the closest it will get to Earth on August 2.

Due to its close proximity it will be brightly illuminated by the sun and will be visible in the sky all night making it the perfect opportunity to catch a closer look of this planetary giant - and the Seeliger effect will make the rings appear brighter than normal

And just a couple of weeks later, on August 19, Jupiter will come into opposition, and will be bigger and brighter than at any point in the rest of the year. You should be able to see its four largest satellites (it has 79 in total) with a good pair of binoculars, appearing as bright dots on either side of the planet.

August 22

This calendar event only happens once every few years - it's where the old adage once in a blue moon comes from.

There are normally only three full moons in each season of the year. But since full moons occur every 29.53days, occasionally a season will contain four full moons. The extra full moon of the season is known as a blue moon.

However this is based on the old definition of what constitutes a blue moon. The modern interpretation defines a blue moon as where there are two full moons in a month.

But going off the original blue moon rules, the seasonal full moon in August - known as the Sturgeon moon, is technically one, too.

September 14

In normal circumstances, there's pretty much no way to see Neptune in the night sky without some sort of special equipment.

But those armed with simple binoculars or a basic small telescope will be able to catch a glimpse of this faraway world in autumn as it moves into opposition with Earth. It will reach opposition on September 14 and will be visible all night.

October 21 to 22

This annual meteor shower is caused when the Earth passes through debris left by Halley's Comet. The Orionids are named after Orion, because the meteors seem to emerge or radiate from the same area in the sky as the constellation.

It's not as active as some of the other meteor showers visible throughout the year, but from adark location, with the moon is out of the way, you might see 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak.

The meteors themselves aren't the brightest and are really fast so you'll need to be focused, but they make up for it with some of the longest-lasting bright streaks - known as trains - after it has gone.

October 8 to 9

This meteor shower is typically a modest one, though there have been spectacular exceptions in the past - including a stormy display in 2018.

It's created by the dust debris left by the Comet Giacobini-Zinner and coincides with the head of the constellation known as Draco the Dragon, found in the northern sky.

This year's shower peaks on the night between October 8 and 9 and and is best viewed in the evening at nightfall, unlike most other meteor showers where activity is typically highest after midnight.

November 5

Uranus is normally hidden and out of view to onlookers and you'd struggle to see it with the naked eye even in the most optimum of conditions and with the exact coordinates of where to find it.

But its position in November means that those with binoculars or a small telescope will get a rare opportunity to get a really decent look at the elusive giant, which will not only be big, bright and easy to spot, it will also move slowly in the sky over the course of a month either side of November 5.

November 6 to 30 (peak November 16- 17)

The fast, bright Leonids are associated with Comet Tempel-Tuttle, and named after the Leo constellation.

This year's shower will peak between midnight and dawn on November 16 and 17.

The Leonids are also known for their spectacular meteor storms every 33 years or so, when hundreds and even thousands of shooting stars can be seen - however there's a bit of a wait for the next one, which is not expected until 2034.

A typical shower usually produces about 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak, though it's not often to spot as many as this in the UK as some are below the horizon.

November 19

Stargazers in the UK will get the chance to see a lunar eclipse in November.

This time, it will take place in the early morning, beginning at 6am. The moon will start to eclipse at 07.18am, moving partially into the Earth's shadow.

The eclipse will take around an hour and a half to complete, finishing at 07.24am.

December 4 to December 17 (Peak December 13-14)

One of the last major showers of the year, the Geminids are particularly impressive with their multi-coloured firework-like meteors.

While most are white, some are yellow and a handful are green, red and blue thanks to traces of metals like sodium and calcium in the debris that creates them - left behind by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon and offering surprisingly colourful bursts of light.

At its peak, this shower has been known produce more than 100 meteors per hour - and the Geminids in 2021 are predicted to have the highest average rate of the year, making it one to watch out for.

They will peak on the night between December 13 and 14 and best watched from a dark location.

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Super moons, meteor showers and other stargazing and astronomy dates in the UK for 2021 - Manchester Evening News

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