Break out the telescope and stretch out your neck, because another year of stargazing is upon us.
Two lunar eclipses, a good summer meteor shower, and a close planetary conjunction highlight the stargazing calendar in 2021, which will otherwise be relatively quiet.
Lacking major events like the historic great conjunction at the end of 2020 or the upcoming total lunar eclipse of 2024, the astronomical calendar still has plenty to offer for amateur and experienced stargazers alike.
The big event in 2021 will be the supermoon total lunar eclipse, which will be visible above the Pacific Northwest in the early hours of May 26. The moon will not only appear larger in the sky, but will turn a shade of red as the Earth’s shadow passes over it.
It also promises to be a good year for the Perseid meteor shower in August, which will coincide with a new moon making skies dark enough to see a good show. The shower will peak on Aug. 12 and 13, a beautiful time of year in the Northwest.
And while there’s no great conjunction to look forward to this year, there will be a close conjunction of Mars and Venus on July 13, which is a great excuse to break out the telescope under clear summer skies.
Here’s what to look for when you look up at the night sky in 2021:
Quadrantid Meteor Shower
The early winter meteor shower won’t offer much of a show to those in the Pacific Northwest. Aside from possible cloud cover, the waning gibbous moon during the meteor shower’s peak will make the meteors harder to see, which under dark skies would number about 25 per hour. It may be possible to see some closer to the shower’s end on Jan. 12.
Lyrid Meteor Shower
Conditions won’t be optimal for the peak of this year’s Lyrids meteor shower, with a waxing gibbous moon hanging bright in the sky. The Lyrids are known for their fast and bright meteors, though typically they only number about 20 per hour. Some may be visible around the beginning of the meteor shower on April 14.
A “supermoon” is a term used for a full moon that is near its closest approach to Earth, appearing larger and brighter than normal. The April supermoon will be the first of two in 2021 (a third on June 24 is also considered by some to be close enough to be deemed “super”).
Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower
Best viewed from the southern tropics, the Eta Aquarids usually produce 10 to 30 meteors per hour at their peak for those in the northern hemisphere. A crescent moon during the meteor shower’s peak this year will allow for darker skies.
Supermoon Total Lunar Eclipse
The marquee astronomical event of the year will be a total lunar eclipse that overlaps with the second “supermoon” of the year. Look for the full moon to turn red as the shadow of the Earth falls across it.
Annular Solar Eclipse
This isn’t a total solar eclipse and it won’t be visible from the Pacific Northwest, but the annular solar eclipse – where a smaller moon blocks only part of the sun, creating a “ring of fire” effect – will be visible in the northeast U.S. and part of the Midwest.
Conjunction of Mars and Venus
Summertime stargazers will be able to fit both Mars and Venus into a single telescope view, as they appear close to one another during a conjunction of the two planets. With a thin crescent moon and clear summer skies, it should be a great occasion for stargazing in the Pacific Northwest.
Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower
Like the Eta Aquarids, the Delta Aquarids are best seen from the southern hemisphere, producing a minor shower in the north. A waning gibbous moon at their peak will likely drown out the scant meteors.
Alpha Capricornid Meteor Shower
Peaking the same two nights as the Delta Aquarids, the Alpha Capricornids will be another faint shower, thanks to the bright gibbous moon. Typically, this shower is known for its bright fireballs and is equally visible on both sides of the equator.
Perseid Meteor Shower
One of the best meteor showers of the year, the Perseids promise to be a good show this year, with a new moon just a few days before the shower’s peak. Under dark skies, the Perseids usually number 50 to 75 per hour. Clear summer skies and warm temperatures make it a reliably good event.
Blue Moon (seasonal)
We tend to think of a “blue moon” as the second full moon to occur within a single calendar month, but the term is also used for an extra full moon in a single season. Confusingly, it’s the third full moon in the season, not the extra fourth, that is considered the blue moon. This year the blue moon will come in the last third of summer.
Orionid Meteor Shower
The Orionids typically produce 10 to 20 meteors per hour, though numbers can swell up to 75 in good years. This year doesn’t look promising, as a full moon will drown out most of the display.
Leonid Meteor Shower
The Leonids are debris from the comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, known for infrequent outbursts of activity, most recently in 2001. There won’t be any major Leonids events until 2099, and no good showers until around 2030, though the shower still produces peaks of around 15 meteors per hour. This year’s peak will be drowned out by a nearly full moon.
Partial Lunar Eclipse
While not technically a total lunar eclipse, this partial eclipse will see Earth’s shadow covering a full 97% of the moon. The event will be visible for the entire U.S., reaching its maximum eclipse in the wee hours of the morning. The moon will be near its farthest point from Earth, so it will appear a bit smaller in the sky.
Geminid Meteor Shower
The strongest meteor shower of the year comes on the final days of fall, with peaks of up to 120 meteors per hour. The Pacific Northwest is usually a poor place to look for Geminids due to reliably cloudy skies, and this year’s peak will be further hampered by a waxing gibbous moon. Stargazers who want to see the shower should head outside a few hours before dawn, or hope to get lucky in the early days of the shower, which will be active between Dec. 4 and 20.
Ursid Meteor Shower
Overshadowed by the Geminids and the holiday season, the Ursids meteor shower rounds out the year with peak activity of around five to 10 meteors per hour, running from Dec. 17 to 26. Observers might be able to see the meteors in the late morning hours on the peak days of Dec. 21 and 22, though a nearly full moon might ruin your chances.
New species of crested dinosaur identified in Mexico
A team of palaeontologists in Mexico have identified a new species of dinosaur after finding its 72 million-year-old fossilized remains almost a decade ago, Mexico’s National Institute of Anthropology and History (INAH) said on Thursday.
The new species, named Tlatolophus galorum, was identified as a crested dinosaur after 80% of its skull was recovered, allowing experts to compare it to other dinosaurs of that type, INAH said.
The investigation, which also included specialists from the National Autonomous University of Mexico, began in 2013 with the discovery of an articulated tail in the north-central Mexican state of Coahuila, where other discoveries have been made.
“Once we recovered the tail, we continued digging below where it was located. The surprise was that we began to find bones such as the femur, the scapula and other elements,” said Alejandro Ramírez, a scientist involved in the discovery.
Later, the scientists were able to collect, clean and analyze other bone fragments from the front part of the dinosaur’s body.
The palaeontologists had in their possession the crest of the dinosaur, which was 1.32 meters long, as well as other parts of the skull: lower and upper jaws, palate and even a part known as the neurocranium, where the brain was housed, INAH said.
The Mexican anthropology body also explained the meaning of the name – Tlatolophus galorum – for the new species of dinosaur.
Tlatolophus is a mixture of two words, putting together a term from the indigenous Mexican language of Nahuatl that means “word” with the Greek term meaning “crest”. Galorum refers to the people linked to the research, INAH said.
(Reporting by Abraham Gonzalez; Writing by Drazen Jorgic; Editing by Ana Nicolaci da Costa)
Alberta family searches for answers in teen's sudden death after COVID exposure, negative tests – CBC.ca
A southern Alberta mother and father are grappling with the sudden, unexplained death of their 17-year-old daughter, and with few answers, they’re left wondering if she could be the province’s youngest victim of COVID-19.
Sarah Strate — a healthy, active Grade 12 student at Magrath High School who loved singing, dancing and being outdoors — died on Monday, less than a week after being notified she’d been exposed to COVID-19.
While two tests came back negative, her parents say other signs point to the coronavirus, and they’re waiting for more answers.
“It was so fast. It’s all still such a shock,” said Sarah’s mother, Kristine Strate. “She never even coughed. She had a sore throat and her ears were sore for a while, and [she had] swollen neck glands.”
Kristine said Sarah developed mild symptoms shortly after her older sister — who later tested positive for COVID-19 — visited from Lethbridge, one of Alberta’s current hot spots for the virus.
The family went into isolation at their home in Magrath on Tuesday, April 20. They were swabbed the next day and the results were negative.
‘Everything went south, super-fast’
By Friday night, Sarah had developed fever and chills. On Saturday, she started vomiting and Kristine, a public health nurse, tried to keep her hydrated.
“She woke up feeling a bit more off on Monday morning,” Kristine said. “And everything went south, super-fast.”
Sarah had grown very weak and her parents decided to call 911 when she appeared to become delirious.
“She had her blanket on and I was talking to her and, in an instant, she was unresponsive,” said Kristine, who immediately started performing CPR on her daughter.
When paramedics arrived 20 minutes later, they were able to restore a heartbeat and rushed Sarah to hospital in Lethbridge, where she died.
“I thought there was hope once we got her heart rate back. I really did,” recalled Sarah’s father, Ron.
“He was praying for a miracle, and sometimes miracles don’t come,” said Kristine.
Searching for answers
At the hospital, the family was told Sarah’s lungs were severely infected and that she may have ended up with blood clots in both her heart and lungs, a condition that can be a complication of COVID-19.
But a second test at the hospital came back negative for COVID-19.
“There really is no other answer,” Ron said. “When a healthy 17-year-old girl, who was sitting up in her bed and was able to talk, and within 10 minutes is unconscious on our floor — there was no reason [for it].”
The province currently has no record of any Albertans under the age of 20 who have died of COVID-19.
According to the Strate family, the medical examiner is running additional blood and tissue tests, in an effort to uncover the cause of Sarah’s death.
‘Unusual but not impossible’
University of Alberta infectious disease specialist Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who was not involved in Sarah’s treatment, says it is conceivable that further testing could uncover evidence of a COVID-19 infection, despite two negative test results.
However, she hasn’t seen a similar case in Alberta.
“It would be unusual but not impossible because no test is perfect. We have had cases where an initial test is negative and then if you keep on thinking it’s COVID and you re-test, you then can find COVID,” she said.
According to Saxinger, the rate of false negatives is believed to be very low. But it can happen if there are problems with the testing or specimen collection.
She says people are more likely to test positive after symptoms develop.
“The best sensitivity of the test is around day four or five of having symptoms,” she said. “So you can miss things if you test very, very early. And with new development of symptoms, it’s always a good time to re-test because then the likelihood of getting a positive test is a little higher. But again, no test is perfect.”
Sarah deteriorated so quickly — dying five days after she first developed symptoms — she didn’t live long enough to make it to her follow-up COVID-19 test. Instead, it was done at the hospital.
‘An amazing kid’
The Strate family now faces an agonizing wait for answers — one that will likely take months — about what caused Sarah’s death.
But Ron, who teaches at the school where Sarah attended Grade 12, wants his daughter to be remembered for the life she lived, not her death.
Sarah was one of five children. Ron says she was strong, active and vibrant and had plans to become a massage therapist after graduating from high school.
She played several sports and loved to sing and dance as part of a show choir. She was a leader in the school’s suicide prevention group and would stand up for other students who were facing bullying.
“She’s one of the leaders in our Hope Squad … which goes out and helps kids to not be scared,” he father said.
“She’s an amazing kid.”
Sarah would often spend hours helping struggling classmates, and her parents hope her kindness is not forgotten.
“She’d done so many good things. Honestly, I’ve got so many messages from parents saying, ‘You have no idea how much your daughter helped our kid,'” said Ron.
“This 17-year-old girl probably lived more of a life in 17 years than most adults will live in their whole lives. She was so special. I love her so much.”
China launches key module of space station planned for 2022
BEIJING (Reuters) -China launched an unmanned module on Thursday containing what will become living quarters for three crew on a permanent space station that it plans to complete by the end of 2022, state media reported.
The module, named “Tianhe”, or “Harmony of the Heavens”, was launched on the Long March 5B, China’s largest carrier rocket, at 11:23 a.m. (0323 GMT) from the Wenchang Space Launch Centre on the southern island of Hainan.
Tianhe is one of three main components of what would be China’s first self-developed space station, rivalling the only other station in service – the International Space Station (ISS).
The ISS is backed by the United States, Russia, Europe, Japan and Canada. China was barred from participating by the United States.
“(Tianhe) is an important pilot project in the building of a powerful nation in both technology and in space,” state media quoted President Xi Jinping as saying in a congratulatory speech.
Tianhe forms the main living quarters for three crew members in the Chinese space station, which will have a life span of at least 10 years.
The Tianhe launch was the first of 11 missions needed to complete the space station, which will orbit Earth at an altitude of 340 to 450 km (211-280 miles).
In the later missions, China will launch the two other core modules, four manned spacecraft and four cargo spacecraft.
Work on the space station programme began a decade ago with the launch of a space lab Tiangong-1 in 2011, and later, Tiangong-2 in 2016.
Both helped China test the programme’s space rendezvous and docking capabilities.
China aims to become a major space power by 2030. It has ramped up its space programme with visits to the moon, the launch of an uncrewed probe to Mars and the construction of its own space station.
In contrast, the fate of the ageing ISS – in orbit for more than two decades – remains uncertain.
The project is set to expire in 2024, barring funding from its partners. Russia said this month that it would quit the project from 2025.
Russia is deepening ties with China in space as tensions with Washington rise.
Moscow has slammed the U.S.-led Artemis moon exploration programme and instead chosen to join Beijing in setting up a lunar research outpost in the coming years.
(Reporting by Ryan Woo and Liangping Gao; Editing by Christian Schmollinger, Simon Cameron-Moore and Lincoln Feast.)