Wandering through the realms of the cosmos, pondering its huge vastness

2011 Skywatching Highlights

2011 promises to be a  great year for astronomy enthusiasts as it was filled with several upcoming spectacular lunar and solar eclipses, beautiful planetary conjunctions, celestial groupings and of course, annual meteor showers.

What excites me most about this year is that all of Asia including the Philippines —  where I live — will be able to see all of the eclipse phases of a Total Lunar Eclipse on December 10, 2011, including a “Reddish Moon” during the peak stage. 🙂 Such is truly a rare event to witness, but how rare is that? Well, according to what I found during my online research, I think the last total lunar eclipse that was visible from the Philippines occurred during the 1980s. I wasn’t even alive then.

Anyway, below is a list of astronomical events for this year (arranged according to date) to serve as a guide on your skygazing and give you a preview on your 2011 cosmic journey.

January 3 – 4 Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaks The Quadrantids are an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower usually peaks on January 3 & 4, but some meteors can be visible from January 1 – 5. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation Bootes.
January 4 Partial Solar Eclipse The partial eclipse will be visible in most parts of northern Africa, Europe, and Asia. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
January 10 Crescent Moon and Jupiter approximately 10 degrees apart.
March 20 Equinox The March Equinox occurs at 23:21 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the southern hemisphere.
April 3 Saturn at Opposition
April 22 -23 Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks The Lyrids are an average shower, usually producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. These meteors can produce bright dust trails that last for several seconds. The shower usually peaks on April 21 & 22, although some meteors can be visible from April 16 – 25. This year, the gibbous moon will hide most of the fainter meteors in its glare. Look for meteors radiating from the constellation of Lyra after midnight, and be sure to find a dark viewing location far from city lights.
May 5 – 6 Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower peaks Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower. The Eta Aquarids are a light shower, usually producing about 10 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower’s peak usually occurs on May 5 & 6, however viewing should be good on any morning from May 4 – 7. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Aquarius. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight.
March 15 Mars-Jupiter Conjunction Like two ships passing in the twilight, Mercury and Jupiter come within 2 degrees of each other this evening. For comparison, your fist held at arm’s length covers about 10 degrees of arc in the night sky.Jupiter will be heading toward the sun, while Mercury is moving away from the sun during this time. Immediately after sunset, concentrate on that part of the sky just above and to the left of where the sun has just set. Using binoculars, sweep around this part of the sky to see bright Jupiter sitting just below and to the left of the harder-to-spot Mercury.
May 11 (all month long) Four of the five naked-eye planets will crowd together into what could be described as a Great Celestial Summit Meeting.Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter are contained within a 10-degree span on May 1, shrinking to a minimum of less than 6 degrees on May 12, then opening back up to 10 degrees on May 20.Twice during May, three planets close to within nearly 2 degrees of each other: Mercury-Venus-Jupiter (on May 11-12) and Mercury-Venus-Mars (May 21).  And the crescent moon joins the array on May 1 and again on May 30-31.
June 1 Partial Solar Eclipse The partial eclipse will be visible in most parts eastern Asia, Alaska, northern Canada, and Greenland. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
June 15 Total Lunar Eclipse The eclipse will be visible throughout most of South America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and Australia.(NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
June 21June 23- 27 June SolsticeOccurs at 17:16 UTC. The North Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its northernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.44 degrees north latitude. This is the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the southern hemisphere.Pluto+Charon+Hydra occultation by 2 bright starsRead more …Link 1Link 2, Link 3
July 1 Partial Solar EclipseThis partial eclipse will only be visible off the coast of Antarctica. (NASA Map and Eclipse Information)
July 28 -29 Southern Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower The Delta Aquarids can produce about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower usually peaks on July 28 & 29, but some meteors can also be seen from July 18 – August 18. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Aquarius. This year the thin, crescent moon will be hanging around for the show, but it shouldn’t cause too many problems. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight from a dark location.
August 12 -13 Perseid Meteor Shower The Perseids is one of the best meteor showers to observe, producing up to 60 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower’s peak usually occurs on August 13 & 14, but you may be able to see some meteors any time from July 23 – August 22. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Perseus. Look to the northeast after midnight.
August 22 Neptune at Opposition The blue planet will be at its closest approach to Earth. This is the best time to view Neptune, although it will only appear as a tiny blue dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
September 23 Equinox The September equinox occurs at 09:05 UTC. The Sun will shine directly on the equator and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night throughout the world. This is also the first day of fall (autumnal equinox) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the southern hemisphere.
September 25 Uranus at Opposition The blue-green planet will be at its closest approach to Earth. This is the best time to view Uranus, although it will only appear as a tiny blue-green dot in all but the most powerful telescopes.
October 8 Draconid Meteor Shower Many meteor experts are predicting a good chance that an outburst of up to many hundreds of Draconid meteors will take place. Unfortunately, like the Perseids, a bright moon could severely hamper visibility.  The peak of the display is due sometime between 16h and 21h UT, meaning that the best chances of seeing any enhanced activity from these very slow-moving meteors would be from Eastern Europe and Asia.
November 10 Mars and bright star A colorful conjunction takes place high in the predawn sky between the yellow-orange Mars and the bluish-white star Regulus in Leo, the Lion.  They are separated by 1.3 degrees, but they’ll be within 2 degrees of each other for five days and within 5 degrees of each other for nearly three weeks, so they will be a rather long-enduring feature of the mid-autumn morning sky.
October 21-22 Orionids Meteor Shower The Orionids is an average shower producing about 20 meteors per hour at their peak. This shower usually peaks on the 21st, but it is highly irregular. A good show could be experienced on any morning from October 20 – 24, and some meteors may be seen any time from October 17 – 25. Best viewing will be to the east after midnight.
October 29 Jupiter at Opposition The giant planet will be at its closest approach to Earth. This is the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons.
November 17 -18 Leonids Meteor Shower The Leonids is one of the better meteor showers to observe, producing an average of 40 meteors per hour at their peak. The shower itself has a cyclic peak year every 33 years where hundreds of meteors can be seen each hour. The last of these occurred in 2001. The shower usually peaks on November 17 & 18, but you may see some meteors from November 13 – 20. Look for the shower radiating from the constellation Leo after midnight.
November 25 Partial Solar Eclipse This partial eclipse will only be visible over Antarctica and parts of South Africa and Tasmania. (NASA Map and Eclipse InformationNASA Eclipse Animation)
December 10 Total Lunar Eclipse The eclipse will be visible throughout most of Europe, eastern Africa, Asia, Australia, the Pacific Ocean, and the North America. ((NASA Eclipse Information)
December 13 – 14 Geminids Meteor Shower Considered by many to be the best meteor shower in the heavens, the Geminids are known for producing up to 60 multicolored meteors per hour at their peak. The peak of the shower usually occurs around December 13 & 14, although some meteors should be visible from December 6 – 19. The radiant point for this shower will be in the constellation Gemini. Best viewing is usually to the east after midnight.
December 21 December Solstice The December solstice occurs 05:30 UTC. The South Pole of the earth will be tilted toward the Sun, which will have reached its northernmost position in the sky and will be directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south latitude. This is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the northern hemisphere and the first day of summer (summer solstice) in the southern hemisphere.


Clear skies and happy skygazing! 🙂

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Sources:

SPACE.com — Solar Eclipse and Meteor Shower to Launch 2011 Skywatching Season

AstronomyOnline.org — Dates for conjunctions, eclipses, meteor showers and transits

Astronomical Almanac Online

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