A waning gibbous moonset…(photo by author).
It’s here, the most astro-anticipated post of the year. After much compiling, digging, and secret dealings in darkened observatories, here is our pick of the top astronomical events of 2011. Print it, copy it, forward it far and wide… rather than make a boring laundry list of Full Moons and wide conjunctions, we here at Astroguyz strive to make this yearend post a compendium of the best, unique and just plain cool!
January: The month of January sees a partial solar eclipse, a known and unknown meteor shower, and a unique occurrence;
2nd: The planets Uranus & Jupiter are in conjunction less than 32’ apart; this is the last conjunction for the pair in a series of three.
3rd: The Quadrantids, one of the better bets for a good meteor shower in 2011 (ZHR=100) peaks. The Earth reaches perihelion on the same day.
4th: A partial solar eclipse occurs visible from Europe and North Africa.
8th: Mercury & Venus reach greatest elongation within one day. As calculated by reader Ed Kotapish, this is a rare occurrence!
20th: Ursa Minorids, a relatively obscure shower, peaks on this date. In 2010, this shower put on brief outburst that may deserve scrutiny this year.
Path of Mercury & Venus for the month of January 2011. (Created by the author in Starry Night).
February: February sees some unique moon alignments, the chance to see a unique lunar feature, and a potential sighting of an elusive phenomenon:
1st & 8th: the moons of the gas giants Jupiter and Saturn are in visual alignment, respectivel. Thanks to reader Ed Kotapish for passing this one along!
11th: Viewers in North America will have the opportunity to spot a distinctive feature on the Moon, the Lunar Straight Wall.
22nd: As spring nears in the northern hemisphere, the zodiacal light begins to become easily visible for the next few weeks after this date.
March: This month sees the beginning of spring, a rare tide, and the best asteroid occultation and viewing of Mercury for the year;
9th: The asteroid 72 Feronia will occult a 7.4 magnitude star as seen from a path stretching from Texas to Oregon in one of the best asteroid occultations of the year.
19th: A Proxigean spring tide may be in the offing, as the Full Moon of 2011 occurs near simultaneously during lunar perigee, producing the largest Full Moon of the year.
20th: Vernal Equinox and the beginning of spring occurs at 7:21 PM EST.
22nd: Mercury reaches it best evening elongation of 19° east for 2011.
April: April sees the return of a star party fave to evening skies, a decent conjunction, an a dawn gathering of planets;
3rd: Saturn reaches opposition, shining a magnitude +0.4 in the east at sunset.
4th: It may be just possible to spy the brightest star Sirius in dusk skies, prior to sunset around this date.
5th: …And as an encore, it might be possible to follow the bright star Vega at dawn into daylight, a tough but not impossible feat!
19th: Mercury & Mars reach a conjunction separation of 0.7° degrees, one of the best of the year.
21st: A dependable spring meteor shower, the Lyrids peak with a ZHR of 20.
30th: The month closes with 4xplanets and Moon in dawn skies.
A spring time dawn gathering! (Created by the author in Starry Night).
May: In May we see continuation of an outstanding dawn grouping:
1st: The planetary conjunctions continue, as Mercury, Mars, Venus, and Jupiter are all clustered in dawn skies.
5th: The Eta Aquarids peak around this date, with a ZHR of 15.
11th: Jupiter & Venus are at 0.5° separation, a bright pairing that is sure to illicit queries of “what’s that?”
June: June sees a pair of eclipses plus the beginning of northern hemisphere summer;
1st: A partial solar eclipse occurs for those in northern Alaska and the Canadian high arctic.
15th: A deep total lunar eclipse is in the offering for those in the eastern hemisphere.
21st: The Summer Solstice occurs at 1:16 PM EDT.
July: The month of July brings the second partial eclipse of the year, one of the better lunar planetary occultations, and a sequel to a bizarre birthday;
1st: The month kicks off with a partial solar eclipse which unfortunately is only visible from Antarctica.
4th: Earth reaches aphelion or its farthest point from the Sun at 11 AM EST.
12th: By some reckonings, the planet Neptune celebrates a “birthday,” having completed one full orbit around the Sun since discovery.
27th: An occultation of the planet Mars by the Moon occurs in dusk skies, visible from South America and the South Pacific.
28th: The Southern Delta Aquarids mark the beginning of the summer meteor shower season, with an estimated ZHR of about 20.
August: The month of August sees a good standby meteor shower, a close passage of a comet, and a chance to see the moons of an outer world;
12th: The Perseids peak with a ZHR of 100; unfortunately, the Moon also reaches Full phase on this date.
16th: Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova passes 0.06 AU from Earth and may break naked eye visibility at > +6 magnitude.
22nd: Neptune reaches opposition, a good chance on moonless nights to spot its elusive moons.
September: The month of September brings the onset of Fall, a good morning apparition of an interior world, and another shot at some far out moons;
3rd: Mercury reaches its best morning elongation of the year, at 18° west.
23rd: The autumn or fall equinox occurs at 5:05AM EST.
25th: Uranus reaches opposition and presents another good chance for outer world moon spotting.
October: This month presents us with what could be the surprise meteor shower of the year, a tiny Full Moon, and the second of only two lunar planetary occultations that occur in 2011;
8th: The Draconids, a generally lackluster shower, peak on this date. This shower has been known to produce outbursts approaching a ZHR of +600, as happened in 1998. There is some talk that we may intersect an early 1900’s stream this year, producing another outburst centered on Western Europe.
11th: Smallest Full Moon of the year occurs on this date, as lunar apogee occurs on the 12th.
21st: The Orionids, with a ZHR of 20 peak around the morning of the 21st. Comet C/2010 Elenin also reaches its closest to Earth 0.15 AU on the same date. This comet could reach naked eye visibility and as this goes to press, & ‘may’ be the surprise comet of the year.
28th: An occultation of Mercury by the waxing crescent Moon is visible from Australia and New Zealand.
29th: Jupiter reaches opposition at magnitude -2.9 and moves back into the evening sky.
November: The month of November gives us another potential comet, a meteor shower that always bears watching, and the third solar eclipse of the year;
1th: Comet 2009 P1 Garradd may approach naked eye visibility and put on a show for the last half of 2011.
17th: The Leonids peak with a ZHR around 20 around this date.
25th: A partial solar eclipse occurs visible from Tasmania, South Africa, and Antarctica.
The Winter Solstice Eclipse of 2010; a montage. (Photos by Author).
December: The year ends out with a dependable meteor shower and the best lunar eclipse of the year for some locations;
10th: A total lunar eclipse occurs visible from the Pacific and western North America.
13th: The Geminids peak with a ZHR of about 100.
21st: The Winter Solstice occurs at 12:30AM EST.
And what does 2012 bring? It’s doubtful that the world will end, but how about the last transit of the planet Venus in front of the Sun in our lifetimes? Watch this space as all of the above will be expanded upon throughout the year… maybe you’ll be able to cross that elusive astro-feat off of your life list. Or perhaps your goal in 2011 is similar to that of astro-fan @phylisebanner on Twitter, who replied; “I’ve never looked through a telescope. That’s my MUST see event!”