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By Denise Chow
Whether you’re a seasoned stargazer or a night sky newbie, there are plenty of celestial events to take in during 2019. Here are 14 sky shows you shouldn’t miss, including eclipses, meteor showers and a rare transit of Mercury.
Quadrantid meteor shower. Keep the New Year’s celebration going with the first major meteor shower of 2019. Though the Quadrantids start to appear in late December, they peak overnight on Jan. 3-4. The Quadrantids are typically fainter than most other meteor showers, but this year’s show may be a good one because there’s no bright moon to wash out the night sky.
Unlike most meteor showers, which arise when tiny bits of debris from a comet burn up in Earth’s atmosphere, the Quadrantids are thought to be caused by debris from an asteroid.
Partial solar eclipse. Skywatchers in northeast Asia and the north Pacific, including China, Russia and Japan, will be treated to a partial solar eclipse on Jan. 6, as the moon passes between Earth and the sun. The eclipse will start at around 6:34 p.m. ET (23:34 UTC). As with all partial and total solar eclipses, it should be viewed only with special protective glasses or gear.
Total lunar eclipse. People in North and South America and parts of western Europe and Africa will be treated to a total lunar eclipse overnight on Jan. 20-21. Lunar eclipses occur when Earth passes between the moon and the sun, blocking the sun’s light and casting a shadow over the moon. This one — the last total lunar eclipse until 2021 — promises to be special because it coincides with a “supermoon,” meaning the moon is a bit closer to Earth in its orbit around our planet and thus appears slightly bigger.
Lyrid meteor shower. The Lyrids, so named because they seem to arise from the direction of the constellation Lyra, are active from April 16 to April 25 and peak overnight on April 22-23. The Lyrids are caused by debris from Comet Thatcher, which takes about 415 years to complete one orbit around the sun.
Eta Aquariid meteor shower. The Eta Aquariids are active from April 19 to May 28 and peak overnight on May 5-6. The Eta Aquariids, so named because the shooting stars appear to come from the direction of the constellation Aquarius, are one of two showers created by debris from Halley’s Comet, which takes about 76 years to orbit the sun. The other is the Orionids meteor shower.
Total solar eclipse. On July 2, people in parts of the Southern Hemisphere, including Chile and Argentina, will be able to see a total solar eclipse, when the moon passing between Earth and the sun fully blocks the sun’s light. A partial solar eclipse will be visible in parts of South America, including Ecuador, Brazil, Uruguay and Paraguay. The eclipse will start at 12:55 p.m. ET (16:55 UTC) and reach totality at 3:22 p.m. ET (19:22 UTC).
Partial lunar eclipse. On July 16, skywatchers across much of Asia, Europe, Africa, Australia and South America will be treated to a partial lunar eclipse that reaches its maximum at around 5:30 p.m. ET (21:30 UTC).
Perseid meteor shower. The Perseid meteor shower is typically one of the year’s brightest. These shooting stars are active from around July 17 to Aug. 24 and peak overnight on Aug. 12-13. The Perseids are caused by debris from Comet Swift-Tuttle, which orbits the sun once every 133 years.
Orionid meteor shower. The Orionids are active from about Oct. 2 to Nov. 7 and peak overnight on Oct. 21-22. Named after the constellation Orion, the Orionids are caused by debris from Halley’s Comet.
Transit of Mercury. On Nov. 11 the planet Mercury will pass in front of, or transit, the sun, appearing as a tiny black dot against the bright disk of our host star. This transit of Mercury will be the first since 2016 and the last until 2032. As with solar eclipses, planetary transits can cause eye damage if viewed without appropriate gear. A telescope with a magnification of 50x or more that has been equipped with a proper solar filter is recommended for viewing this transit.
Leonid meteor shower. The Leonid meteor shower is active from around Nov. 6 to Nov. 30 and peaks overnight on Nov. 17-18. Named after the constellation Leo, this shower occurs when Earth passes through debris from Comet Tempel-Tuttle, which takes about 33 years to orbit the sun.
Geminid meteor shower. The Geminids are active from around Dec. 4 to Dec. 17 and peak overnight on Dec. 13-14. Like the Quadrantids, the Geminids are thought to be caused by debris from an asteroid — in this case a space rock known as 3200 Phaethon.
Ursid meteor shower. The Ursids are active from around Dec. 17 to Dec. 26 and peak overnight on Dec. 21-22. This shower is named after the constellation of Ursa Minor, from which the shooting stars appear to emerge. The Ursids are caused by debris from Comet 8P/Tuttle.
Annular solar eclipse. An annular solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between Earth and the sun but only partially obscures the sun’s light, leaving a “ring of fire” around the sun. This annular eclipse, which occurs on Dec. 26, will be visible across much of Asia, eastern Europe, western Australia and East Africa. It begins at 9:29 p.m. ET (02:29 UTC) on Dec. 25 and reaches its maximum at 12:17 a.m. ET (05:17 UTC) on Dec. 26.