A periodic comet may put on a fine show for northern hemisphere viewers over the next few months.
Comet 21/P Giacobini-Zinner is currently a fine binocular comet shining at +8th magnitude and cruising across the constellation Cassiopeia. This places it above the horizon for the entire night for observers north of the equator in August, transiting the local meridian at local dawn.
How about that Total Lunar Eclipse this past July 13th? It has been a busy year for astronomy for sure, with two total lunar eclipses, a comet fading out from an unexpected burst of glory and Saturn, Jupiter and Mars reaching opposition in quick succession.
Now, watch for a rare event, with the final eclipse for 2018 coming up on Saturday, August 11th, with a partial solar eclipse spanning northern Europe and the Arctic.
Comets are one of those great question marks in observational astronomy. Though we can plot their orbits thanks to Newton and Kepler, just how bright they’ll be and whether or not they will fizzle or fade is always a big unknown, especially if they’re a dynamic newcomer from the outer solar system just visiting the inner solar system for the first time.
We had just such a surprise from a cosmic visitor over the past few weeks, as comet C/2017 S3 PanSTARRS erupted twice, brightening into binocular visibility.
One of the top astronomy events of 2018 occurs on the evening of Friday, July 27th, when the Moon enters the shadow of the Earth for a total lunar eclipse. In the vernacular that is the modern internet, this is what’s becoming popular as a “Blood Moon,” a time when the Moon reddens due to the refracted light of a thousand sunsets falling on it as the pass through the ruddy limb of the Earth.
Eclipse season in nigh… though most of us won’t notice. The second eclipse season for 2018 commences with the arrival of New Moon and Brown Lunation number 1182 at 3:01 Universal Time on Friday, July 13th, 2018. This eclipse is a shallow partial, just skimming the southern hemisphere of the Earth between the Australian and Antarctic continents.
An unusual celestial spectacle unfolds for observers around the Great Lakes region next Tuesday at dawn. The Moon has been faithfully occulting (passing in front of) the bright star Aldebaran for every lunation now since January 29th, 2015. This split second events have touched on nearly every farflung corner of the Earth. Now the United States and Canada get to see the penultimate event, as the waning crescent Moon occults Aldebaran one last time for North America.
Up for a challenge? Planetary action is certainly heating up this summer: Jupiter passed opposition last month, Saturn does so in June, and Mars reaches favorable viewing next month. And with dazzling Venus in the west and Mercury to joining it starting in late June, we’ll soon have all of the naked eye classical planets in the evening sky.
Now, I want to turn your attention towards a potential naked eye object, you’ve probably never seen: asteroid 4 Vesta.
We’re in the midst of a parade of planets crossing the evening sky. Jupiter reached opposition on May 9th, and sits high to the east at dusk. Mars heads towards a fine opposition on July 27th, nearly as favorable as the historic opposition of 2003. And Venus rules the dusk sky in the west after the setting Sun for most of 2018.
June is Saturn’s turn, as the planet reaches opposition this year on June 27th, rising opposite to the setting Sun at dusk.