Enjoy the decent weather while it lasts! It’s been feeling like spring here the last few days but don’t be fooled, we’re far from done with winter. But the nicer weather has me excited about the upcoming summer so I thought I’d share with you what I’m looking forward most to this spring/summer!
Let me preface this by saying; I think this often gets distorted in coverage of astronomy. Focusing too heavily on rare events skews perception that an excuse is needed to go stargazing. One of the most asked questions I get while stargazing is “Is there anything *special* going on tonight?”, which I never know how to answer. I feel like the idea of the question is that no one would go stargazing unless it’s ‘a once in an X number of years event‘ but I find everything special. The entire universe is going to pass overhead tonight and focusing on one bit of it as special feels like discrediting the rest.
Just go outside tonight and look up! Even if you just see a few stars, you’re seeing sooo much more of our universe in that moment than you did all day on earth (unless it’s cloudy). “The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena.” - Carl Sagan
That being said… let me go on to point out all the *special* things I’m excited about!
Currently I've been enthralled with the Mars rover that just landed a few days ago and I'm excited to see it deploy the helicopter which was planned for sometime around ~March 19th? (likely being delayed.) I’ve been checking https://mars.nasa.gov/technology/helicopter/ frequently to get the latest updates to when it will be deployed.
Spring Equinox is on March 20th (starting spring). This is when we will finally transition to having more daylight hours than night.
April 21st is the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower ~10-20 per hr (Don't focus on the exact date as you'll see plenty of shooting stars the days before and after the "peak").
There's a planned crewed SpaceX launch April 22nd. This will be the second manned launch SpaceX has done.
The Eta Aquarids meteor shower ~20-60 per hr which peak May 5th (Again, don't focus on the exact date as you'll see plenty of shooting stars the days before and after the "peak").
Mercury will be best viewed just after sunset on May 17th. Mercury will be fairly low on the western horizon at sunset so this is best seen when you have a clear view of the western horizon, which can be difficult from the front range with the mountains directly west of us.
There's a Lunar Eclipse that will be seen in most of the Americas just before sunrise on May 26th.
Another lunar eclipse will occur on June 10th, but this can only really be seen in Canada.
June has the summer solstice! Summer officially starts on June 21st (astronomical summer).
July of course has the anniversary of the 1st Apollo moon landing (1969) on July 20th.
The Perseids meteor shower usually peaks early August. I actually have them down as peaking on the 12th of Aug but any day from Aug 7th to the 12th should be really good to view them. A new moon on the 8th means the moon won't subtract with it's natural light pollution as much and you'll be able to see more fainter shooting stars than during the “peak” on the 12th. The Perseids is actually a really big shower so you might even start to see some in late July (Again, don't focus on the exact date as you'll see plenty of shooting stars the days before and after the "peak).
Saturn will be at 'opposition' (closest it'll be to earth) on Aug 2nd (I also wouldn't stress the exact date so much as we'll have good late night views of Saturn starting around ~June to ~Aug then good early night views of Saturn for a few months after August)
Jupiter will be reaching opposition Aug 19th I'd say as with Saturn, Jupiter will be visible a few months before for late night viewing, and a few months after for early night viewing.
Katherine G. Johnson's (the real life main character of the film Hidden Figures) birthday is Aug 26th.
Best time to see both Neptune and Mercury will be September 14th. I don’t get too excited about Neptune; even with the best conditions possible and a really good telescope it's not much to look at. Like last time, Mercury will be fairly low on the western horizon at sunset. This is best seen when you have a clear view of the western horizon which can be difficult from the front range with the mountains directly west of us.
And finally the Autumn Equinox is Sep 22nd which brings the end to astronomical summer.
If you want an up close view of any of these events or just want to take in the wonders of the sky any old night please join me on one of my astronomy programs. For the night of the peak of meteor showers I book up quickly (especially this year with COVID restrictions limiting us to 10 people per tour). However, I add tours to meet demand so if it books up I'll add more tours on the days before and after or even late night tours after the first group which should be just as good. As I’ve said over and over again, any date is fine for astronomy. Don’t get too hung up on any one date.
And finally keep up with these dates and more in my 2021 calendars. I have bottomed out the price on both of them now that we are 3 months into 2021 so get them now while they are as cheap as they will ever be and you can still get most of the year's use out of them.