MONTGOMERY, Ala. (WSFA) - Are you an astronomy buff? Do you enjoy checking out meteor showers? How about full moons and planets? If you answered “yes” to any of those questions, this 2021 astronomy guide is for you!
A number of good to great to even incredible events are set to happen this year, so let’s break them all down...
A total of 11 meteor showers will light up the night sky for the remainder of 2021. They range from minor to average to above average to must-see.
They are also scattered throughout the year, giving you plenty of opportunities to see a meteor shower!
The Lyrid meteor shower is the next one on the calendar, peaking on April 21-22. The best time to view this shower will be before dawn on April 22nd. Upwards of 10-15 meteors will be possible per hour at this time. The moon will be nearly 70% full, but will set in the sky in time for great viewing just before dawn. The Lyrids have been known to produce outbursts of upwards of 100 meteors per hour, but predicting them is nearly impossible.
The Eta Aquariids follow the Lyrids, peaking just before dawn on May 5th. While you can get a decent showing the days before and after the peak, the predawn hours of May 5th will bring 10-20 meteors per hour to the Southern US. The moon could impact viewing a bit, but the waning crescent shouldn’t wash this show out.
The Delta Aquariids and Alpha Capricornids peak at roughly the same time, and neither is exceptionally memorable for the United States. However, the Delta Aquariids can produce 10-20 meteors per hour in the Southern US, and the Alpha Capricornids are known for producing bright fireballs despite only delivering up to 5 meteors per hour. These showers peak July 28-29, with moonlight probably washing some of the fainter meteors out.
Arguably the most popular meteor shower of the year -- the Perseids -- follows those two showers on August 11-12. Upwards of 50-75+ shooting stars can be seen every hour at the peak of this shower. With the moon being 13% full, this year’s Perseids are an absolute must-see!
October brings the Draconids and Orionids to our night sky. The former peaks on October 8th during the evening hours, and can produce a handful of meteors every hour. Rarely, the Draconids can put on an unforgettable show with well over 100 shooting stars visible every hour. The moon will not impact this year’s Draconids show. The Orionids then peak October 20-21. This shower can produce 10-20 meteors per hour, with the potential to overperform and produce as many as 50-75. The moon will be full, which means viewing during the early morning hours of October 21st will be difficult unless the shower produces some fireballs.
The Southern Taurids and Northern Taurids start November off with the potential for some great fireballs. Neither shower is great in terms of the number of meteors, but they are both known for producing great fireballs. The Southern Taurids peak November 2-3 and the Northern Taurids peak November 11-12. The moon should not cause issues for either.
Up next is the Leonids, which peak before dawn on November 17th. This shower typically produces 10-15 meteors per hour, but can have weak outbursts that can lead to a much better display. This shower is also famous for occasionally producing meteor storms. These storms can features hundreds and hundreds of meteors per hour, but the next such storm isn’t likely until 2099, according to the American Meteor Society. The Leonids are also known for producing vivid and bright meteors with long, persistent trains!
The king of all meteor showers comes next, as the Geminids peak on December 13-14. This shower will put on a show from the evening of December 13th until predawn on the 14th. It is known for producing bright and vividly colorful meteors in the night sky. The moon will be more than 75% illuminated, which will impinge on viewing until just before sunrise. Still, this will be worth circling on your calendar.
Lastly we have the Ursids, which are a minor shower at best. The Ursids produce 5-10 meteors per hour, and a nearly full moon will certainly obstruct many of them this year.
- January 28 -- Wolf moon
- February 27 -- Snow moon
- March 28 -- Worm moon
- April 26 -- Pink moon (supermoon)
- May 26 -- Flower moon (supermoon)
- June 24 -- Strawberry moon (supermoon)
- July 23 -- Buck moon
- August 22 -- Sturgeon moon
- September 20 -- Harvest moon
- October 20 -- Hunter’s moon
- November 19 -- Beaver moon
- December 18 -- Cold moon
The planets will be visible at different times scattered throughout the 2021 calendar. Below will be the best time to view each of them during the evenings and/or mornings, according to the Farmers’ Almanac.
Mercury will be viewed best during the evenings hours between May 3rd and May 24th. It’ll be at its peak brightness during the morning hours during the October 18th to November 1st period.
Venus has a very broad window of viewing, with the best evening views coming between May 24th and December 31st in the western sky around dusk. The hottest planet in the Solar System is best seen for morning-goers through January 23rd in the eastern sky.
Mars, or the Red Planet, is best seen between now and August 22nd during the evenings, and between November 24th and December 31st during the morning hours.
The largest planet in our Solar System, Jupiter, is known for typically being the 3rd-brightest object in the night sky behind the Moon and Venus. It is best viewed during the evening hours between August 20th and December 31st. For morning views, the best window is February 17th to August 19th. The absolute best time to see this gas giant is between August 8th and September 2nd.
The 2nd-largest planet in our Solar System, Saturn, is known for its size, visibility in the night sky and its incredible display of rings. Saturn is visible from August 2nd through the end of the year during the evening hours, but the absolute best time to view it is during the short window of August 1-4. During the mornings, it can be seen from February 10th through August 1st.
Uranus, the 3rd-largest planet in our Solar System, is the smallest of the four gas giants, but is known for its extreme tilt and rings. It is visible through April 12th and then again after November 4th during the evening hours, and between May 16th and November 3rd for the morning hours. It will be at its brightest after August 28th, and requires good binoculars or a telescope to see.
Last but not least is Neptune, the 8th planet from the Sun. Neptune is visible during the evenings through February 23rd and then again after September 14th. For the morning hours, it will be visible from March 27th to September 13th. It will be at its absolute brightest between July 19th and November 8th.