As New Year fast approaches, many skygazers are enthusiastically anticipating the astronomical events in store for all of us in 2014. Here's a list of some noteworthy skywatching events to expect that will give folks good reasons to "keep looking up":
JANUARY 2014: QUADRANTID METEOR SHOWER (January 1st - 5th)
A New Moon will rise on January 1st, which means there won't be any light interference for the annual Quadrantid meteor shower that will peak from January 1st - January 5th -- with special attention for the window occurring on the evening of January 2nd and on through to the predawn hours of January 3rd. The Quadrantids will radiate from constellation Bootes, and, on average, they clock in about 40 "shooting stars" per hour, thanks to the dusty debris left by now-extinct Comet 2003 EH1.
FEBRUARY 2014: FULL MOON (Valentine's Day, February 14th)
On 14th February 2014, a full moon will rise, making for a romantic Valentine's holiday. Interestingly enough, full moons have traditionally been given specific names by various cultures around the globe to keep track of seasons. Because the heaviest snowfall usually occurs in the month of February, Celtic druids designated the year's second full moon as the Moon of Ice. Native Americans have similarly dubbed it as the Full Snow Moon or the Full Hunger Moon, depending on the tribe. Indeed, FARMERS' ALMANAC has even documented the Cherokees naming it the Full Bony Moon, in reference to when the tribe is "forced to gnaw on bones and sip bone marrow soup for sustenance." The ancient Chinese were more optimistic by comparison, for they recognized it as the Budding Moon ushering spring's arrival in the next month.
MARCH 2014: ASTEROID 163 ERIGONE WILL OBSCURE BRIGHT STAR (March 20th)
In what is predicted to be an exceedingly rare skywatching event, Regulus -- one of the brightest stars in the night sky -- will be briefly hidden by the shadow of asteroid 163 Erigone along a 45-mile wide path. The event can be seen with the naked eye (no binoculars nor telescope needed at all), and will look as though constellation Leo the Lion's brightest star will briefly wink out or disappear for about 15 seconds on March 20th.
APRIL 2014: TWO DAY EVENT SPECIAL -- MARS AT CLOSEST POINT TO EARTH (April 14th) & TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE (April 15th)
On a two event special occurring within hours of one another, Mars will make its closest approach to Earth during the overnight hours of April 14th, thus making it seem like a dazzling fiery red star in the sky. The magnitude of its brightness will match the star Sirius, which is the most luminous of all the stars. Then, just a few hours later -- during the early hours just before predawn of April 15th -- a total lunar eclipse will occur of the full moon, so that a reddish lunar orb shall be visible for North America, and will last for 78 minutes until moonset.
MAY 2014: METEOR SHOWERS -- ETA AQUARIDS (May 5th - 6th) & A NEW SHOWER EXPECTED (May 24th)
May 2014 is expected to be a month of meteor showers. First, the annual Eta Aquarids run from May 1st through May 28th, with the peak window being May 5th - 6th. Created by the dusty trail left behind by Comet Halley, the Eta Aquarids can number 60 "shooting stars" per hour during peak display as they radiate from the constellation Aquarius. Then, around Memorial Day weekend on Saturday, May 24th, astronomers are expecting the arrival of a possible new meteor shower (yet to be named by experts). It is believed the outburst of meteor shower will occur as our planet sweeps through a dusty patch left behind by the small Comet P/209 LINEAR.
JUNE 2014: SUMMER SOLSTICE FOR NORTH AMERICA (June 21st)
Summer officially begins for North America during the summer solstice, which will take place on June 21st. Various organizations -- like museums, planetariums, and astronomical societies -- around the country will be kicking off the start of summer with events, such as Star Parties. Be sure to join in on the fun by checking the calendar of events hosted by stargazing organizations near you. Thousands of revelers will likewise be gathered at Stonehenge and other solar calendar sites to celebrate the longest day of the year. However, if merry England is too far away for your budget, then booking a visit to Ohio's Serpent Mound or to the Southwest's Chaco Canyon might prove a bit closer to home -- for they, too, are ancient sites aligned with the summer solstice's sunlight.
JULY 2014: DELTA AQUARIDS METEOR SHOWER (peaks July 28th - 29th)
July's annual Delta Aquarids meteor shower begins on July 12th and runs through to mid-August, thus making the Delta Aquarids overlap with the more famous August Perseids. Although the Delta Aquarids average 20 "shooting stars" per hour, this meteor shower is still known for its fireballs: about ten percent of the Delta Aquarids leave persistent trains that glow as ionized gas trails in the sky even after the meteor has passed! Be on the lookout for these Delta Aquarid fireballs, especially during the peak window, which will occur from the evening of July 28th and on through to the predawn hours of July 29th. The parent body of the Delta Aquarids is still in question, although sungrazing comets Marsden and Kracht, as well as Comet 96P Machholz, are likely candidates. Because a thin crescent moon will set early on the evening of July 28th, the minimal light interference makes 2014 a favorable year to view the Delta Aquarids.
AUGUST 2014: SUPERMOON (August 10th), PERSEID METEOR SHOWER PEAK (August 12th - 14th), and VENUS-JUPITER CONJUNCTION (August 18th)
Besides the biggest full moon of 2014 appearing on August 10th, as well as a brilliant double planet viewing (called a conjunction, where two celestial objects appear very close to one another ) of Venus and Jupiter together in the sky on August 18th, the eighth month of 2014 will have the annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaking from August 12th through August 14th, with an average of 75 "shooting stars" per hour. While the full SuperMoon on August 10th brings some lunar light interference, the Perseids are nonetheless known for being both bright and numerous, so the meteor shower is still expected to have a decent showing for those who stay clear of city lights.
SEPTEMBER 2014: FULL CORN MOON (September 9th) and AUTUMN EQUINOX (September 23rd)
In Native American lore the full moon that occurs in September was known as the Full Corn Moon, because it corresponded to the time when tribes would harvest their corn crops along with squash, beans, and wild rice. It was also called the Full Barley Moon because of similar reasons. Meanwhile, for European farmers the strong light of the full moon closest to the Autumn Equinox helped them gather their crops, even late into the night, thereby designating it as the Harvest Full Moon. However, because the full moon occurring closest to the Autumn Equinox can fall in either September or in October, that means the September full moon will NOT be 2014's Harvest Full Moon, since the 2014 Autumn Equinox falls on September 23rd.
OCTOBER 2014: FULL HUNTER'S MOON and TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE (both on October 8th), METEOR SHOWERS (October 8th - 9th; October 21st - 23rd), NEAR-COLLISION BETWEEN COMET AND MARS (October 19th), and PARTIAL SOLAR ECLIPSE (October 23rd)
The month of October will be a very busy month for skywatchers in 2014. Not only is October's full moon the year's official Harvest Moon, but it is also called the Hunter's Moon -- again this is attributed to October being the preferred month of hunting at night. October's full moon is likewise known as both the Travel Moon and the Blood Moon. Being called the Blood Moon will be apropos in 2014 on account of a total lunar eclipse concurrently scheduled for full moon night, October 8th. This celestial occurrence, visible for North America, will render the October full moon a rusty-reddish hue, with the event's totality lasting roughly an hour. Naturally, the full moon's light will interfere with the peak of the Draconid Meteor Shower on October 8th - October 9th. Then, on October 19th, stargazers will be treated to a near-collision event between Comet C/2013 A1(Siding Spring) and the planet Mars. The comet was discovered by Robert McNaught with the Australia Siding Spring Observatory, and the comet's close pass to Mars will give the optical illusion of appearing as though the comet's coma envelopes Mars. Also, from October 21st through to the 23rd, the annual Orionid Meteor Shower -- with its reliable 20 "shooting stars" per hour -- will peak with no moon interference! Finally, on October 23rd a partial eclipse of the sun will occur across the United States, appearing as though Cookie Monster had bitten off a piece of the lunar disc; the size would vary depending on one's location. Be mindful of viewing solar eclipses (whether partial or full) with a special solar filter so as to protect the health of one's eyes.
NOVEMBER 2014: METEOR SHOWERS -- TAURIDS (November 5th - 6th) and LEONIDS (November 16th - 19th)
The Taurid meteor shower actually runs from September 7th and straight on through to December 10th, but it peaks in 2014 from November 5th through November 6th. Although the November full moon will block out some of the Taurids, the brighter ones nonetheless can still peak through, and shall radiate from the constellation of Taurus the bull. Still, the highlight for November 2014 will be the Leonid Meteor Shower, noted for being the most majestic of all meteor showers because every 33 years Leo the Lion's "shooting stars" can number in the thousands during enhanced peak displays. The Leonids run from November 6th on through to November 30th, and will peak in 2014 from November 16th through November 19th, with very minimal lunar light interference.
DECEMBER 2014: FULL MOON BEFORE YULE (December 6th), GEMINID METEOR SHOWER (December 13th - 14th), WINTER SOLSTICE (December 21st), and URSID METEOR SHOWER (December 22nd - 23rd)
December 2014's Full Moon will occur on the 6th, and is known in Native American lore by several appellations, such as the Full Cold Moon, the Moon Before Yule, and the Full Long Nights Moon -- all hinting at that time of year when Earth nights grow longer and when cold snaps linger in the air. From December 7th through the 17th, the waning moon will throw some lunar light interference on the Geminid Meteor Shower, but the brightest of the Geminids can still be observed -- particularly since the Geminids are considered the "king of all meteor showers" with their peak rates of 120 multicolored "shooting stars" per hour during the peak window of December 13th - 14th. Then, December 21st will mark the year's second Solstice, and, thus, the official arrival of winter for the Northern Hemisphere. Again, trips to ancient solar calendar locales -- such as Stonehenge, Colorado's Mancos Canyon with its ancient solstice sites, Illinois' Cahokia Mounds, or the Southwest's Sun Dagger celestial calendar built by the Anasazi Indians in Chaco Canyon -- will likely be planned by avid enthusiasts. Finally, the Ursid Meteor Shower will help ring in the 2014 Christmas holiday, as it runs from December 17th through the 25th, with the peak window being December 22nd - 23rd. And, with no moonlight interference at all, that will make 2014 an ideal year to observe this Comet Tuttle-spawned meteor shower that radiates from constellation Ursa Major.