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.
Axiom Space Announces Ax1 – First All-Private Crew To Visit ISS – Forbes
When it comes to space, even the wildest ideas have a chance of becoming reality – especially when the timing and technology align just so. Four years ago, Axiom Space announced plans to build a private space station; like for many companies with similar plans before them, the news was generally well received but with a healthy dose of “we’ll believe it when we see it.” Over the intervening years, Houston-based Axiom has continued the steady march forward and today took a major step on the planned path to create a private space station – and prove the demand for those willing to pay to reach it.
Today, Axiom Space announced the four members selected for the first private crew to visit the International Space Station. The mission, dubbed Ax1, will be lead by former NASA astronaut and Axiom vice president Michael López-Alegría as commander. American entrepreneur and non-profit activist investor Larry Connor, Canadian investor and philanthropist Mark Pathy, and impact investor and philanthropist Eytan Stibbe of Israel will round out the crew as pilot and two mission specialists respectively.
Early reception was generally positive; while some pointed out that the crew lacks gender diversity, others countered that former NASA astronaut Peggy Whitson is currently slated as Ax1’s backup commander. (John Shoffner of Knoxville, Tenn. is the backup mission pilot.)
“This collection of pioneers – the first space crew of its kind – represents a defining moment in humanity’s eternal pursuit of exploration and progress,” López-Alegría said. “I look forward to leading this crew and to their next meaningful and productive contributions to the human story, both on orbit and back home.”
The four-member crew, which is currently scheduled to launch to the ISS no earlier than January 2022 aboard a SpaceX Crew Dragon capsule, will spend eight days on the space station before returning to earth. They will participate in research and philanthropy projects during that period, similar to the work current governmental astronauts do during their longer tenures on ISS. Each man paid $55 million for their spot on the Ax1 crew and to cover costs of launch and accommodation aboard ISS.
This is in line with the sums past space tourists have paid for individual flights to the ISS. Eight private citizens traveled to space between 2001 and 2009, each paying between reportedly between $20-25 million. A successful Ax1 mission will increase the number of private citizens who have visited the ISS by 50%, and pave the way for a more comfortable ride (Crew Dragon was generally praised for being comfortable by DM-2 astronaut Bob Behnken; the Russian Soyuz that carried past space tourists is notoriously uncomfortable.)
“We sought to put together a crew for this historic mission that had demonstrated a lifelong commitment to improving the lives of the people on Earth, and I’m glad to say we’ve done that with this group,” Axiom Space President & CEO Michael Suffredini said. “This is just the first of several Axiom Space crews whose private missions to the International Space Station will truly inaugurate an expansive future for humans in space – and make a meaningful difference in the world when they return home.”
However, the flight and stay aboard ISS are not guaranteed: Axiom Space is still negotiating a Basic Ordering Agreement (BOA) with NASA to enable private astronaut missions like Ax1 and future planned missions. The eventual goal is to send two missions per year to the ISS while Axiom Space builds out a private space station, first as a series of attached modules to the existing ISS structure, then as a free-floating station of its own.
The crew announcement marks an important first step, as it puts names and faces to the private citizens who may make history as early as January next year.
'It honestly blows my mind': U of A student part of team that found baby tyrannosaurus fossil – Edmonton Journal
A baby tyrannosaurus fossil found in central Alberta is helping the scientific community get a better understanding of how the dinosaur species developed at an early age.
University of Alberta PhD student Mark Powers was a part of the research team that found a claw from an embryo near the village of Morrin, about 270 kilometres southeast of Edmonton, a few years ago. The fossil, which dated back roughly 71.5 million years ago, was notable as it captured the dinosaur while still in early development.
The claw, about a centimetre long, was paired with another fossil, a jawbone, which was discovered in the ’80s in the United States.
Powers said researchers have a good grasp of tyrannosaurus during its teenage to adult years but there are few records of what they were like while very young. He said the smallest identifiable tyrannosaur on record is usually already three to four years old.
“We didn’t know anything about them hatching or their first year,” Powers said. “Finding these two specimens shows that they are around, and it gives us a search image to search for more babies. It helps to fill in the entire sequence of growing for a tyrannosaurus. We had a good idea of teenagers and later, but we had no idea about the babies.”
Wildlife rescue group says bird feeders could be spreading bacterial infection among songbirds – CBC.ca
Bird feeders have become a source of pandemic joy for bird lovers in B.C.’s Lower Mainland, but they could be leading to an illness in birds including the pine siskin, a very small songbird species.
The Wildlife Rescue Association of B.C. says its hospital has admitted more than 78 pine siskins earlier in the month due to what appears to be a potential outbreak of salmonellosis. On Vancouver Island, the Greater Victoria Wild Animal Rehabilitation Clinic has taken in about 50 pine siskins showing signs of disease.
Many of them have since died.
While the disease is still being confirmed, the B.C. SPCA is asking people to temporarily take down their bird feeders to help control the spread of salmonella.
Andrea Wallace, the manager of wild animal welfare at the B.C. SPCA, says bird feeders are a way that disease can spread very quickly among among the birds.
“Bird feeders are a congregation point where birds will come and feed close together in an unnatural environment,” Wallace said to host Kathryn Marlow on CBC’s All Points West.
“If you think about how birds would naturally forage for food, they are distributed over a wide area and they are not coming into contact with each other so closely.”
So far, Wallace says, it’s only really been pine siskins that have been affected by the illness — and she’s says it’s not entirely clear why.
“It is really disheartening to see so many of them coming into care this year. We had absolutely nothing like this last year or even the year before, so it’s pretty alarming when its happening in these kind of numbers.”
Some symptoms of an infected bird include lethargy, difficulty breathing and a puffed-up appearance.
“These birds can be very lethargic and not respond to predators. They can also become disoriented and hit windows,” Wallace said.
If you do encounter an infected bird, Wallace says you can get the bird to a wildlife rehabilitation facility. Wear gloves and use a blanket before picking up the bird, and place it in a fabric-lined, well-ventilated box for transport.
“One thing we don’t want is these birds to be out in the wild and suffering unnecessarily and also potentially infecting other animals.”
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