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2014 stargazing calendar: Catch three eclipses, new meteor shower

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:

January

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.

February

Venus takes its turn to brighten in the middle of the month, reaching its greatest brilliancy around Feb. 15.

March

The vernal equinox occurs March 20, but Baltimore’s hours of daylight and darkness will become equal again by March 17.

April

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.

May

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.

June

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.

The summer solstice occurs June 21, when there is nearly 15 hours of daylight.

July

The Delta Aquarid meteor shower can produce up to 20 meteors per hour, running from mid-July through late August. The show peaks the night of July 28 and into June 29, and a thin crescent moon setting early in the evening means that more meteors can be seen.

August

The Perseids are one of the year’s best meteor showers, with as many as 60 meteors per hour at peak on the night of Aug. 12 and into Aug. 13. Moonlight could outshine some smaller meteors, but the “shooting stars” should still be plentiful.

The Full Sturgeon Moon on Aug. 10 will be the year’s largest full moon. The moon will be just shy of 222,000 miles away at perigee, more than 30,000 miles closer than it will be at its farthest apogee, on July 27.

Venus and Jupiter will pair up this month in the early-morning sky, becoming only a quarter of a degree apart. Look to the east near the constellation Cancer’s “Beehive Cluster.”

September

The autumnal equinox is Sept. 23, and three days later, daylight hours begin taking up less than half of the day until March 2015.

October

The year’s second full lunar eclipse, on Oct. 8, will be best seen from the West Coast of the United States and across the Pacific; on the East Coast, part of it can be seen at moonset.

We will also be slightly too far east for the best view of a partial solar eclipse Oct. 23, though there will be a brief window before sunset when the moon’s shadow begins to block part of the sun. Be sure not to look directly at the sun.

Two relatively minor meteor showers occur in October: the Draconids, with up to 10 meteors per hour, on the night of Oct. 8 and into Oct. 9, and the Orionids, with up to 20 meteors per hour, on the night of Oct. 21 and into Oct. 22.

Astronomers and scientists will be watching an object known as Comet Siding Spring as it passes possibly within 70,000 miles of Mars around Oct. 19.

November

The Leonid meteors peak the night of Nov. 17 and into Nov. 18, producing up to 20 meteors per hour.

December

The best of the year’s meteor showers comes last, when the Geminids peak the night of Dec. 13 and into Dec. 14. The shower can produce more than 100 meteors per hour, and they often streak across the sky in beautiful colors.

The winter solstice occurs Dec. 21, with just 9 hours, 24 minutes of daylight.

An earlier version of this post incorrectly characterized the opposition of Jupiter.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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