Unique celestial events in 2014 include two full lunar eclipses visible from Maryland and a partial solar eclipse that will begin just before sunset one October afternoon. A new meteor shower could be a bonus.
Here’s what stargazers have to look forward to next year:
Jupiter is always one of the most distinctive objects in the night sky, and it will be at its brightest early in the new year, on Jan. 5. That is when the planet is at “opposition,” when the Earth is directly between it and the sun.
The Quadrantid meteors, meanwhile, also peak early in the year, on the night of Jan. 2 and into Jan. 3 for a matter of hours.
The year starts out with its smallest full moon on the calendar, with the Jan. 15 “Old Moon” occurring closest to the moon’s apogee, when it is farthest from Earth in its orbit.
Venus takes its turn to brighten in the middle of the month, reaching its greatest brilliancy around Feb. 15.
The vernal equinox occurs March 20, but Baltimore’s hours of daylight and darkness will become equal again by March 17.
The Earth’s full shadow will be cast on the moon April 15, the first of two full lunar eclipses in 2014. The eclipse will be visible across the Americas. Full lunar eclipses don’t block out the moonlight but can dim it or, sometimes, tint it red.
April 8 is a good time to view Mars, with the planet closest to Earth and its surface fully lit up by the sun.
The Lyrid meteor shower, with up to 20 meteors per hour, peaks around the night of April 22 and into April 23.
The calendar of meteor showers remains stable, more or less, as Earth’s orbit regularly intersects with the orbit of comets that leave behind small pieces of debris and dust. But an intense new shower could emerge around May 24, when Earth passes through the trail of comet 209P/LINEAR, which passed by the sun in 2009.
Saturn makes its closest approach to Earth on May 10, and its rings and moons will be visible with a telescope.
The Eta Aquarid shower, with up to 30 meteors per hour, can be seen in the early morning hours from May 4 to May 7, with its peak around the morning of May 6.
The waxing gibbous moon and Mars will be within 2 degrees of each other June 7, pairing up nicely in the early-evening sky. Look to the west after sunset.