Maryland Weather Meteorology, astronomy and climate conditions in the Baltimore region

New year promises stargazers 'super moons,' meteor showers, visible planets and more

Keep looking up in 2018.

There won’t be any major eclipses to see, but the year’s astronomy calendar features super, blue and red moons. All five visible planets and the annual meteor showers that might be taken for granted in a more exciting year should also provide a good show, weather permitting.

There will be a flurry of sights to start off the year, and again at midsummer, with plenty of other celestial events spread across the other months.

January

The new year begins with a Super Wolf Moon on New Year’s Day. The year’s first full moon is known as the Wolf Moon, or the Old Moon or Moon after Yule. This one is “super” because it coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth in its elliptical orbit, making it look slightly larger and brighter.

On Jan. 3, Earth reaches what is known as perihelion, when it is closest to the sun in its elliptical orbit. While the average distance between the two bodies is about 93 million miles, it’s about 1.5 million miles closer at perihelion.

The narrow peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower is expected in the early morning of Jan. 3 or 4. At least 40 “shooting stars” can streak across the sky as Earth passes through the trail of an asteroid known as 2003 EH. But the full moon will outshine many of them this year.

The year’s latest sunrise comes Jan. 4 and 5 at 7:26 a.m.

A total lunar eclipse — when the earth passes between the sun and the moon — will occur Jan. 31. It will be visible from eastern Asia, most of Australia, Alaska and Western Canada. Baltimore will catch only the start of the eclipse before the moon sets at 7:12 a.m., about 40 minutes before totality begins.

That morning, the moon could also be considered a “Red Blue Moon” — red because the moon can take on a ruddy hue when eclipsed by Earth’s shadow, and blue because it’s the second full moon of the month. Blue moons don’t look any different from normal moons — it’s just an old expression.

February

There will be no full moon in February for the first time since 1999. The lunar calendar features blue moons in both January and March.

You can see Venus, the brightest of the visible planets, line up with the thin crescent moon in the western sky at dusk Feb. 16. Venus is mostly an evening star in 2018.

March

The first month of meteorological spring begins and ends with full moons, on March 1 and March 31. The term blue moon once meant the third full moon in a season with four full moons, but it is now more often given to the second full moon in a calendar month.

You can see all five visible planets in March — Mercury and Venus in the western sky after sunset, and Mars, Jupiter and Saturn in the southern sky before dawn. Mercury, Venus and the moon all will appear in close conjunction in the west on March 18.

The vernal equinox arrives at 12:15 p.m. March 20. At that moment, the sun’s rays are cast equally between the Northern and Southern hemispheres. In Baltimore, day and night will become roughly equal a few days earlier, on March 17. That day, the sun will be up about 12 hours, and it will stay up about 2 ½ minutes longer each day over the next few weeks.

April

The Lyrid meteor shower can produce 20 shooting stars at its peak, the night of April 22 and morning of April 23. The meteors come from the debris trail of the comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher.

In the middle of April, a sundial can be used to tell time, one of four times a year when the solar clock and man-made clocks are in sync. The other times are June 15, Sept. 1 and Dec. 25.

May

Some of the Eta Aquarid meteors may be visible before dawn on May 6 or 7. The shower is better seen from the Southern Hemisphere, but can produce 10 to 30 meteors per hour when viewed from the Northern Hemisphere.

Jupiter reaches what is known as opposition, when its face is fully illuminated as viewed from Earth, May 9. Binoculars could reveal its four largest moons, and a medium-sized telescope could show some detail in its cloud bands. Look for it in the evening in the southern sky.

June

The earliest sunrise of the year comes June 14, at 5:39 a.m., and the summer solstice comes a week later, June 21 at 6:07 a.m. The sun will be up that day for 14 hours, 56 minutes, about 5 ½ hours longer than it does at the winter solstice.

Saturn will brighten as it reaches opposition June 27. Its rings will be visible through a medium-sized telescope. It will rise in the southwest by 10 p.m. and move across the southern sky.

On June 27 and 28, the sun won’t set until 8:37 p.m. in Baltimore, the latest sunset of the year.

July

Earth reaches its farthest point from the sun, known as aphelion, July 6.

There is a super moon July 12, but it’s a Super New Moon. A new moon, the beginning of the lunar cycle, occurs when the moon and sun are on the same side of Earth, so the moon is out during the day. This one can be considered “super” because it will be about 222,000 miles from Earth, about 13 percent closer than its average distance.

Late July brings a confluence of celestial sights.

The July 27 full moon, the Buck Moon, will be called by some a “micro” moon. Instead of coinciding with the moon’s closest point to Earth, as with a super moon, it aligns with the moon’s farthest point from Earth, about 252,000 miles. That could make it appear slightly smaller than usual. In Africa, the Middle East and central Asia, the full moon will be dimmed by a total lunar eclipse.

Four of the five visible planets will be visible at the same time in the evening in late July . After sunset, Mercury can be seen low on the western horizon, while to the east, along the imaginary line known as the ecliptic, Venus, Jupiter and Saturn can all be seen. After Mercury sets, Mars will rise in the west and become visible with the other three planets. Mars reaches its brightest for the year July 27.

August

The Perseid meteor shower is one of the year’s most popular among stargazers, because it’s active and the weather is usually warm enough to spectate comfortably. As Earth passes through the trail of the comet Swift-Tuttle, as many as 60 meteors can cross the sky each hour at the shower’s peak, the night of Aug. 12 and early morning of Aug. 13.

September

Venus reaches its greatest brightness around Sept. 21. Look for it in the southwest after sunset.

The autumnal equinox arrives Sept. 22 at 9:54 p.m. The sun will start spending more time below the horizon than above it on Sept. 26.

October

Halley’s Comet is the parent of the Orionid meteor shower. It peaks the night of Oct. 21 and early morning of Oct. 22. As many as 20 meteors can streak across the sky per hour.

November

The comet Tempel-Tuttle produces the Leonid meteor shower in November, with as many as 15 meteors per hour when it peaks the night of Nov. 17 and morning of Nov. 18.

December

The year’s earliest sunset comes Dec. 7, at 4:43 p.m. The winter solstice comes two weeks later, Dec. 21. It arrives at 5:22 p.m., about half an hour after sunset and just 9 hours, 24 minutes of daylight.

An earlier version misstated the month of the latest sunset and a description of the full moon. The Sun regrets the errors.

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