The calendar has flipped to 2021, and the coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate daily life. Fortunately, the night sky has your back, with several mesmerizing spectacles set to unfold during the upcoming year.
Total lunar eclipse: May 26
A total lunar eclipse will be visible for many in the United States, the Earth interceding between the sun and moon to plunge the lunar body into a blood-red shadow. It will also coincide with the month’s supermoon.
In the Eastern United States, the early morning eclipse reaches totality as the moon dips below the horizon, with places as far west as the Missouri River witnessing only a partial eclipse.
The lunar eclipse’s total phase will last 14 minutes and 28 seconds.
Annular solar eclipse: June 10
An annular solar eclipse will occur on the morning of June 10, a remarkable "ring of fire" visible with eye protection from portions of Ontario and northern Quebec in Canada, as well as extreme northwestern Greenland.
Annular eclipses take place when the moon moves directly in front of the sun but doesn’t appear large enough to cover the solar disk. As such, a ring forms where the sun “swallows” the moon.
Venus and Mars conjunction: July 12
On the night of July 12, Venus and Mars will be visible in an elegant conjunction just after sunset in the western sky. Venus will shine a bit brighter on the right, with Mars on the left.
The slender crescent moon, just 9 percent illuminated, will hang above to the left.
Perseid meteor shower: August 11-12
Arguably the year’s most widely viewed meteor shower, the Perseids will peak the night of August 11 into the 12th as the Earth plows through a stream of debris left in the wake of Comet Swift-Tuttle during our annual orbit about the sun.
Each interstellar pebble burns up in Earth’s outer atmosphere about 60 miles up, producing a spark of light that we view as a shooting star.
Partial lunar eclipse: November 19
On November 19, a nearly total lunar eclipse will be visible; the moon will still be bathed in red, coated in sunlight filtered through Earth’s atmosphere.
But Earth’s shadow won’t fully swallow the bottom left rim of the moon, meaning totality won’t occur.
The eclipse will be at its maximum around 4 a.m., a less-than-ideal hour for viewing.
Total solar eclipse: December 4
The most mesmerizing show of the year, a total solar eclipse, will also be the most exclusive.
The moon will completely block out the sun for up to 1 minute and 54 seconds, revealing the sun’s ghostly corona, or atmosphere, but the path of totality is entirely inaccessible — unless you’re willing (and able) to travel to Antarctica.
Geminid meteor shower: December 13-14.
The nearly full waxing gibbous moon will spoil much of the show for those hoping to catch the Geminids, but 20 to 40 shooting stars are usually visible every hour under ideal conditions.
The Geminids feature slower-moving and often more vibrant shooting stars than the summertime Perseids.
Many of them shine a brilliant emerald green or purple.