WRAL WeatherCenter Blog

Eclipse to highlight astronomical events in 2017

Posted January 2

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— 2017 will bring many astronomical shows visible with the naked eye, or in some cases, a pair of binoculars. This includes a total solar eclipse in August that will cross the continental United States.

Events not easily visible from the viewing area, such as eclipses or meteor showers that coincide with a nearly full moon, are not included in this list.

Jan. 3 – The Quadrantid meteor shower is active Jan. 1-10 and is usually one of the most intense of the year as Earth passes through a very narrow stream of debris left by comet 2003 EH1. Unfortunately, overcast conditions are expected through the shower’s brief peak. The best time to in North Carolina will be the evening of Jan. 3 as clouds part after sunset. Do not expect to see more than about 10 per hour, even with a nearly new moon producing little interference.

Jan. 4 – The Earth is at perihelion, the closest point in its orbit to the sun.

Jan. 7 – The Morehead Planetarium will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake from 6 to 8 p.m. Viewing of Venus, Mars and the moon are planned.

Jan. 12 – Venus has shown brightly high in the western sky as sunset for the past few months. Venus will appear at the highest point above the horizon as the planet reaches greatest eastern elongation of 47.1 degrees from the sun. Look in the western sky after sunset, you can't miss it.

Jan. 14 – The North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences hosts 30 middle and high school teams in a showcase of Science Olympiad events.

Jan. 15 – SpaceX plans to return to flight from the Kennedy Space Center, launching from the converted historic launch complex 39A, which once sent space shuttles and Apollo missions into orbit.

Jan. 28-29 – The theme of this year’s Astronomy Days at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences is the Sun and Stars. The event features activities for all ages from NASA and area astronomy clubs and universities, along with talks from astronomers.

Feb. 2 – Groundhog Day celebrations at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Feb. 4 – The Morehead Planetarium will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. Viewing of Venus, Mars and the moon are planned.

Feb. 11 – Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková, which brightened to the point it could be seen from dark locations with binoculars at the end of 2016, returns in February. The short-period comet will make its closest return on Feb. 11 and is expected to be even brighter.

Sometime in February – SpaceX plans a launch, and United Launch Alliance plans two.

March 4 – The Morehead Planetarium will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake from 7 to 9 p.m. Viewing of Venus, Mars and the moon are planned.

March 4 – The moon will occult, or pass in front of, the bright star Aldebaran beginning at 7:53 p.m. The star will re-emerge just after midnight.

March 20 – The equinox on March 20 signals the astronomical beginning of spring. At 6:28 a.m. Eastern Standard Time, the sun will shine directly on the equator. Across the globe, we’ll see nearly equal amounts of day and night.

March 29 – The thin crescent moon, Mercury and Mars will form a triangle low on the western horizon just after sunset.

Sometime in March – United Launch Alliance plans two launches of Orbital ATK's Cygnus cargo vessel to the International Space Station and a communications satellite.

April 1 – Mercury will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky as the planet reaches its greatest eastern elongation of 19 degrees from the sun. Look low in the western sky just after sunset. The moon also passes in front of the bright star Aldebaran, occulting it, beginning at 3:06 a.m.

April 6 – The moon occults the bright star Regulus beginning at 10:45 p.m. The star will re-emerge at 2:22 a.m.

April 7 – Jupiter will be at its brightest as its face is fully illuminated by the sun. Since the planet is directly opposite the sun this day, it rises as the sun sets, is visible all night and sets as the sun rises.

April 10 – Jupiter will still be shining brightly as it joins the full moon just 2 degrees away.

April 20 – Cocktails and Cosmonauts, a 21-and-over event is set for the Museum of Life and Science.

April 22 – The Lyrid meteor shower is visible April 16-25 and peaks the night of April 22 into the next morning. While an average shower in terms of the number of visible meteors, the Lyrics are known for producing bright trails lasting several seconds. The crescent moon should not be too much of a problem this year. Skies should still be dark enough for a good show. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Lyra but can appear anywhere in the sky.

April 22 – The Morehead Planetarium will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake from 8:30 to 10:30 p.m. Viewing of Jupiter and the Lyrids are planned.

Sometime in April – SpaceX plans a test of the Falcon Heavy rocket in a launch from the Kennedy Space Center.

May 7 – The Eta Aquarids meteor shower is active April 19 to May 28 and expected to peak after midnight the morning of May 7 into the following morning. This is an above-average shower that has produced up to 30 visible meteors per hour as Earth passes through dust left by a previous visit from comet Halley. The waxing gibbous moon will outshine fainter meteors this year, but brighter ones should shine through.

May 17 – Look for Mercury low in the eastern sky just before sunrise on May 17 as the planet reaches greatest western elongation of 25.8 degrees from the sun.

May 20 – The Morehead Planetarium will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake from 9 to 11 p.m. Viewing of Jupiter is planned.

May 25 – The new moon will be at the closest point in its orbit in 2017, at 9:21 p.m, a super new moon.

June 3 – Look for Venus shining brightly in the eastern sky before sunrise on June 3 as it reaches greatest eastern elongation of 45.9 degrees from the sun.

June 8 – The nearly full moon will be at the furthest point in its orbit from Earth, a mini-moon.

June 15 – Saturn will be at its brightest of the year as it reaches opposition, its closest approach to Earth. Saturn will rise at sunset, be visible all night and set at sunrise.

June 17 – The Morehead Planetarium will host a skywatching session at Jordan Lake from 9 to 11 p.m. Viewing of Jupiter and Saturn are planned. This is a good opportunity to view Saturn. The current tilt of the planet toward Earth makes its rings appear widest of the decade.

June 21 – The solstice signals the astronomical beginning of summer. At 12:24 a.m., the sun will be directly over the Tropic of Cancer at 23.44 degrees north latitude. That day, the sun will take the highest path above the horizon across the sky.

June 28 – Look low on the western horizon for Mercury and Mars less than 1 degree apart.

Sometime in June – SpaceX plans two launches, including a test of the in-flight abort required before the Dragon capsule can be certified for human spaceflight.

July 3 – Earth is at aphelion, the furthest point in its orbit from the sun.

July 28 – Delta Aquarids meteor shower is an average one which is active from July 12 to Aug. 23, with a peak expected the night of July 28 into the following morning. The best time to look will be after midnight once the moon has set where up to 20 meteors per hour are predicted.

July 30 – Mercury reaches its greatest eastern elongation. Look low in the western sky just after sunset. Mercury completes more than four orbits around the sun in the time it takes Earth to make one.

Sometime in July – Orbital ATK plans the launch of a resupply mission to the international Space Station from the Mid-Atlantic Regional Spaceport in Virginia.

Aug. 12 – The Perseid meteor shower is active from July 17 to Aug. 24, peaking the evening of Aug. 12. The Perseids are known for producing up to 60 per hour. Unfortunately, the waning gibbous moon will block all but the brightest meteors, but the Perseids are known for producing particularly bright meteors.

Aug. 21 – A total solar eclipse will pass through Oregon, Idaho, Wyoming, Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Illinois, Kentucky, Tennessee, Georgia and North and South Carolina. While central North Carolina will not see totality, we will see nearly 90 percent of the sun’s face covered by the moon around Roanoke Rapids to nearly 97 percent near Lumberton between 2:15 p.m. and 3:06 p.m. The WRAL Weather Blog will have a lot more information about the eclipse and how you can best experience this once in a lifetime event.

Sometime in August – SpaceX plans an uncrewed demonstration launch of the crewed variant of the Dragon spacecraft to the International Space Station.

Sept. 12 – Mercury will be best viewed low in the eastern sky before sunrise as it reaches greatest western elongation.

Sept. 22 – Astronomical autumn arrives at 4:02 p.m. with the equinox. The sun will shine directly on the equator, and there will be nearly equal amounts of day and night worldwide.

Sometime in September – After nearly two decades studying Saturn and its moons, including Pandora, Atlas, Pan and Daphnis, NASA will instruct the Cassini mission to begin its final phase, falling into Saturn’s atmosphere. Also, United Launch Alliance plans the launch of an early warning missile detection system for the military.

Oct. 5 – Venus passes less than 0.25 degree north of Mars. Look low on the eastern horizon before sunrise.

Oct. 15 – The bright star Regulus will be occulted, or hidden, as the moon passes in front.

Oct. 21 – The Orionids meteor shower should produce a better show. Active from Oct. 2 to Nov. 7, a peak of 20 meteors per hour is expected the night of Oct. 21 into the next morning, with the crescent moon setting early in the evening.

Nov. 13 – Jupiter and Venus will appear very close in the predawn sky, just 18 arc-minutes apart, about half the diameter of the moon. Best time to view will be before sunrise.

Nov. 24 – Mercury will be best viewed low in the western sky just after sunset as it reaches greatest western elongation.

Nov. 28 – Mercury will pass within 3 degrees of Saturn, best viewed just after sunset.

Dec. 3 – The only supermoon of 2017 will be best viewed in the evening.

Dec. 6 – Mercury and Saturn will be a little more than 1 degree apart, low on the western horizon after sunset.

Dec. 13 – The Geminids meteor shower will be active Dec. 7-17, peaking the evening of Dec. 13 into the following morning. This year, the waning crescent moon should have little effect, with up to 120 meteors per hour visible from dark locations.

Dec. 21 – The solstice marks the start of astronomical winter as the sun shines directly over the Tropic of Capricorn at 23.44 degrees south latitude.

Dec. 21 – The Ursids meteor shower. Normally a minor shower producing few meteors, the Ursids may be worth a look at their peak the evening of Dec. 21 into the following morning, as the crescent moon sets early in the evening.

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