Upcoming Celestial Events for Spring 2021

Upcoming Celestial Events for Spring 2021

Karyna Hetman

As spring is in full bloom, many changes in nature are happening around us, but there are also great transitions happening above us, too. The upcoming spring celestial events create opportunities for fun viewing experiences and chances to learn more about our solar system. 

The earliest event takes place on May 16, where the moon will occult a bright star called Kappa Geminorum, or the K Gem. In this event, the dark edge of the waxing gibbous moon will overlap the star first, concealing the light. Later, the star will return and shine out from behind the eastern limb of the moon. This phenomenon can be experienced by observers in the eastern continental United States, as well as Canada. 

Image Credit: Starry Night

There is another celestial event in store the following day, that being Mercury at its greatest eastern elongation. On May 17, Mercury will reach its greatest eastern elongation of 22 degrees from the sun. For observers with the desire of viewing Mercury, this would be the optimal time as it will be at its highest point above the horizon. This can be seen by the Northern Hemisphere from 8:30 to 9:30 pm EST.

Image Credit: Sylas Boesten

On May 26, there will be two major celestial events occurring, both similar in nature. The first is the total lunar eclipse, which is estimated to happen at 3:11 to 3:25 am EST. According to the Smithsonian, “For the first time since January 2019, the Earth’s shadow will envelop the full moon in a total lunar eclipse.” A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes through the dark shadow casted by the Earth. As a result, the moon will take on a dark, red color. The National Geographic describes this color change by saying, “During the total part of the eclipse, sunlight shining through the ring of Earth’s dusty atmosphere is bent, or refracted toward the red part of the spectrum and cast onto the moon’s surface. As a result, the moon will transform from a dark gray color during the partial phase of the eclipse to a reddish-orange color during totality.” However, “the moon’s exact color can vary depending on the amount of dust in the Earth’s atmosphere.” Viewers throughout the Pacific Ocean, parts of eastern Asia, Japan, Australia, and western North America will be able to see this event. Unlike solar eclipses, lunar eclipses are safe to view with the naked eye, binoculars, and telescopes.

Following the lunar eclipse is the supermoon, occurring on the same night. This will be the second (and largest) of the three supermoons this year. In this event the moon is located on the opposite side of the earth, and the sun becomes fully illuminated. Various cultures around the world have their own interpretation of the significance of this supermoon. For example, the early Native American tribes called it the “Flower Moon” since it appeared in the springtime when flowers would bloom. This supermoon has other names in various countries such as the “Corn Planting Moon” and the “Milk Moon”. The supermoon can best be seen at 7:14 am when it reaches its fullest phase. 

Image Credit: Deanne Fortnam

The next big celestial event to follow the supermoon is on June 10 with the new moon. It will be located on the same side of the Earth as the sun, and will be invisible in the dark sky. The new moon will occur at approximately 10:54 pm UTC, and while the moon cannot be seen, it is the best time to observe objects that aren’t usually visible, such as star clusters and galaxies, since they are not upstaged by the moon at this time. 

Image Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

On the same night as the new moon, another celestial phenomenon occurs, this being the annular solar eclipse, also called the “ring of fire” solar eclipse. This type of solar eclipse occurs when the moon is so distant from the Earth that it cannot completely cover the sun, resulting in a ring of light illuminating around the moon. This event can be seen partially in the northeastern U.S., Europe, and most of Russia, but it is most visible in eastern Russia, the Arctic Ocean, western Greenland, and Canada.

Image Credit: Phillip Jones

The last major celestial event to finish off the spring season is the June Solstice, occurring on June 21. This event is signified by the North Pole tilting towards the sun, where it reaches its northernmost position in the sky and will be precisely above the Tropic of Cancer. This marks the first day of summer in the Northern Hemisphere and, likewise, the first day of winter for the Southern Hemisphere. This change in seasons is said to occur at 3:21 am UTC.

Image Credit: Geoff Caddick