2021 promises to be a great year for watchers of our Western Slope Skies. The New Year will feature two lunar eclipses, Perseid meteors under a dark August sky, several planetary conjunctions, and increasing solar activity.
Mars, though fading, will remain visible on evenings through August, until it disappears into twilight in September. But the Red Planet can still excite us. Three Mars-bound spacecraft will arrive in February, including NASA’s Perseverance Rover. On February 18th, the Rover will decelerate from 13,000 mph to land on Mars, during what NASA calls “7 minutes of terror.”
On May 26, a total lunar eclipse will be visible from western Colorado before and during morning twilight. And, in the wee hours of November 19, the Western Slope will experience a partial eclipse of the Moon. On June 10 travelers can experience an annular solar eclipse from parts of Canada, Siberia, and the Arctic. That eclipse will be partial for the eastern U.S. and Europe. And, on December 4, there’s a total solar eclipse in the Antarctic.
Disappearing into morning twilight by mid-January, Venus reappears in the evenings by late May and will remain a brilliant “evening star” through December. Jupiter and Saturn will shine brightly on mid to late summer evenings and be visible for the rest of the year.
On dark evenings from June through September, we can view the brightest parts of the Milky Way spanning our Western Slope Skies.
During the wee hours of August 10 through 14, watch the Perseid Meteor Shower under dark, moonless conditions. If skies are clear, we may see 60 to 100 Perseid meteors per hour.
There will be striking planetary conjunctions in 2021. During the pre-dawn of March 5, enjoy a close grouping of Jupiter, Mercury and Saturn. And, there will be several close conjunctions in the evenings, including Mercury and Venus on May 28, Venus, Mars, and a crescent Moon on July 12, Mercury and Mars on August 18, and Mercury and Venus again on December 28.
Sunspot and solar flare activity likely will increase in 2021, and colorful auroras may be seen from the northern U.S., and perhaps even from Colorado.
Year 2021 will be an exciting one for astronomy.
Western Slope Skies is produced by the Black Canyon Astronomical Society. This episode was written and recorded by Art Trevena.