7 ASTRONOMICAL EVENTS YOU DO NOT WANT TO MISS IN 2021
Posted on December 28 2020
We all know that some astronomical events such as the Super Moon or poor meteor showers can leave us disappointed. There are other astronomical events that we do not want to miss as they can be rare or visible only once in a lifetime.
Here is a list of astronomical events that you cannot miss from the Southern Hemisphere in 2021.
1. Mercury and Jupiter 0.5° apart
Many people have never been able to see Mercury as it moves quickly across the sky and its low brightness is often overpowered by the brightness of the Sun. On Friday 5 March 2021, Mercury will be close to its highest elongation and it will be only 0.5° from Jupiter. The close couple will be visible with a telescope with a magnification up to 70x and it can be captured with a planetary camera on the primary focus of your telescope. This event will be visible only in the morning before dawn, the best time is 5:30 am (AEDT) when the planets will be 10° above the horizon. At that time you can also spot Saturn which is just a few degrees above Jupiter. The conjunction will be visible until 6:00 and then the planets will disappear in the brightness of the dawn. To capture the three planets, you can use your DSLR on a tripod and a standard camera lens. If you cannot make it on the 5th or clouds will disturb the show, you can also observe it the day after.
Mercury and Jupiter on the morning of the 5 March 2021. The left image shows the planets in the frame of a 85mm full frame camera. The right image shows the planets as they will appear in a 70x eyepiece. Image courtesy of SkySafari 6 Pro.
2. Mercury, Jupiter and the Moon
They will be close enough to be captured in a 200mm lens. The Moon will be a thin crescent and a few seconds exposure with your DSLR will be sufficient to capture the planets and the Earthshine. There will be only one window of opportunity on Thursday 11 March between 5:30 and 6:00 am (AEDT). The trio will rise around 4:45 am (AEDT) and with some planning, you can create a breath-taking photo composition aligning some landscape features such as a far building, a monument or a mountain with the planet and the Moon. Saturn will be a few degrees above Jupiter.
Jupiter, Mercury and the Moon as it appears in the field of a 200mm lens. Image courtesy of SkySafari 6 Pro.
3. Total Moon Eclipse
Finally this year we will have a Total Moon Eclipse, which in Australia will be visible just after dinner time from the East coast. Mark the 26 May on your calendar as you cannot miss this event; it will commence at 6:49 pm (AEST). You will notice that the Moon will get dimmer when it will enter in the umbra at 7:46 pm (AEST) and the totality will be at 9:22 pm (AEST). There are countless methods to capture a Moon eclipse but a telescope with a long focal length (1000-1500mm) is preferred. During the totality, the moon is thousands of times dimmer than the fully illuminated moon so to attempt to capture the red colour during totality and some stars, you need to increase the exposure to a few seconds. A tracking mount is recommended. During the eclipse, the moon will be close to Antares and the Milky Way, and a wide field lens will be great to capture the red moon in a reach field of stars.
Total Moon Eclipse during its totality. Credit: Adriano Massatani
4. Jupiter and Saturn opposition
After the great conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, this year the two giants will appear close for a whole year and they will both be in opposition in August. On 2 August 2021 Saturn will be at opposition displaying an apparent diameter of 18.6" while the rings will stretch to 42.1". Jupiter will be at opposition on 19 August with a diameter of 49.1" and for anyone who is interested in Jupiter's moon eclipses, on August 16 there will be a double eclipse of Ganymede and Europa. The shadow of the two moons will appear as 2 dark spots quickly moving over the clouds of the Gas Giant.
Jupiter and Saturn close to their opposition in 2018. Credit: Adriano Massatani
5. Partial Moon Eclipse 97%
Another Moon Eclipse will be visible on 19 November, and this time it will not be total as the Moon will be covered 97% by the Earth's shadow. The best time to observe this eclipse will be right after the sunset by looking at East, the totality will be at 8:06 pm when the light of the dusk will still be bright. Later during the night, the sky will darken but the Moon will brighten up as it will leave the umbra at 9:49 pm (AEDT).
Total Moon Eclipse after totality. Credit: Adriano Massatani
6. Jupiter, Saturn, Venus and the Moon
They will all be aligned and only a few degrees apart offering a rare chance to capture a spectacular wide field shot. The date to remember is December 7 with the Moon and Venus very close. The best time to capture this conjunction is at 9:15 pm (AEDT) or a bit earlier if you want to capture the colour of the dusk.
Conjunction Moon-Venus (left) and Moon-Venus-Jupiter (right) from Yulara, NT, 20 June 2015 Credit. Adriano Massatani
7. Geminids Meteor Shower
Meteor showers are rare and they frequently disappoint the observer due to their low rate per hour. In the Southern Hemisphere, the Geminids are well visible and under a dark sky, they can surpass a rate of 100 meteors per hour. According to the International Meteor Organization, in 2021 the peak will be on December 14 at 5 pm (AEDT) so during the afternoon. Considering that the Moon will be almost full, the best time to observe the Geminids will be between 2:30 am and 4:30 am on 13 and 14 December. Meteor showers occur when the Earth transits across an area with more dust and particles which gets attired by the Earth's gravity and burns as meteors. The morning before dawn is the best moment to watch a meteor shower as the Earth is facing the "cloud" of dust during its orbit around the Sun. In comparison, there is a higher chance to hit an insect on the front windscreen of your car rather than on the side windows.