Supermoon eclipse, meteor showers on 2015 skywatching calendar

Mark your calendars for these stargazing events in 2015.

The highlight of 2015 for skywatchers could be the coincidence of a "supermoon" and a late-night full lunar eclipse in September. Otherwise, there are plenty of chances to see distant planets and shooting stars.

There are also sure to be sightings of the International Space Station over Baltimore, with NASA astronaut Terry Virts, a Columbia native, aboard until May.

Here is what to watch for each month.

January

•The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on the night of Jan. 3 into the morning of Jan. 4, producing up to 40 "shooting stars" per hour. But with the full moon falling on Monday, some of the fainter meteors won't be visible.

•Mercury reaches its greatest elongation Jan. 14, which means extra time to spot the closest planet to the sun in the southwest sky after sunset. It will appear in tandem with Venus until about 6 p.m., with Mars just above them.

•Comet Lovejoy, also known as Comet Q2, will be visible with binoculars, or on clear, moonless nights, possibly with the naked eye.

February

•Jupiter is at opposition Feb. 6, meaning Earth is passing directly between it and the sun. It will be out all night, the brightest it will appear all year. You may be able to see its four largest moons with a good pair of binoculars.

•Venus and Mars will appear side by side in the west, just below the waxing crescent moon, after sunset Feb. 22. According to EarthSky.org, they are at their closest since 2008 and until 2017.

March

•The full moon on March 5, known as the Full Worm Moon, is the year's smallest, dubbed by some a "micro moon." That's because the full moon is occurring within hours of lunar apogee, when the moon is at its farthest point from Earth in its elliptical orbit.

•A total solar eclipse occurs March 20, but few will see it with their own eyes — it will follow a path across the middle of the Atlantic Ocean, over Greenland and the North Pole, to eastern Russia. The sun will not yet be up in the United States, but you can watch it online.

•The vernal equinox occurs at 6:45 p.m. March 20, but in Baltimore, the length of daylight will surpass the night's length three days earlier, on St. Patrick's Day. The sun will be up about 12 hours and five seconds on March 17.

April

•The third in a series of four lunar eclipses, known as a tetrad, occurs April 4. But not much of it will be visible from Baltimore because the Earth's shadow will only cover a small part of the moon by the time it sets at 6:51 a.m., as the sun also starts to rise. The best chance to see a "blood moon" is about 6:45 a.m.

•Earth passes through a trail of dust left by Comet Thatcher each year in late April, and the resulting Lyrid meteor shower brings 10-20 meteors per hour in the early morning of Earth Day, April 22. They are known as the Lyrids because they appear to emanate from the constellation Lyra.

May

•Saturn appears at its largest and brightest in late May, as it reaches opposition May 22 around the same time it is closest to Earth. Even with a small telescope, detail of its rings can be seen, but to the naked eye, it won't look much different than usual, appearing in the southern sky late at night.

June

•Venus, the brightest planet in the night sky, never appears too high in the sky because of its proximity to the sun, but June 6 reaches its greatest elongation. After the sun sets just before 8 p.m., Venus will be bright in the west for another three hours.

July

•Venus and Jupiter, two of the brightest night sky objects, will conjoin in the western sky July 1. They will be shining in tandem for about two hours after sunset.

•It can't be seen with the naked eye, but Pluto is at opposition July 6, just about a week before NASA's New Horizons spacecraft reaches the distant dwarf planet. Scientists at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory who are managing the mission will be releasing images of Pluto with unprecedented detail and clarity throughout the year.

August

•The Perseid meteor shower, considered the year's best in the Northern Hemisphere, peaks the night of Aug. 12 and the early morning of Aug. 13. The meteors come from the debris trail of Comet Swift-Tuttle. As many as 60 to 100 of them can streak across the sky per hour in a dark sky, and with a new moon occurring Aug. 14, conditions should be good.

September

•The fourth of the 2014-2015 tetrad of lunar eclipses occurs Sept. 27, and the best could be last. When the Full Harvest Moon comes at 10:50 p.m., the moon will be at the peak of an hour of total eclipse. Not only that, but it's the year's largest "supermoon" — when the full moon coincides with lunar perigee, its closest point to Earth, making it appear slightly larger and brighter than usual.

•The autumnal equinox arrives at 4:21 a.m. Sept. 23, but the length of day and night aren't equal until Sept. 26 in Baltimore.

October

•Mars, Venus and Jupiter put on a show this month, with all three appearing in a cluster during the second half of the month.

•You can see as many as 20 meteors per hour when Earth passes through the dust of Halley's Comet, with the Orionids peaking the night of Oct. 20 and morning of Oct. 21.

November

•The Leonids are another good meteor shower, producing as many as 20 shooting stars per hour in the early morning of Nov. 18.

December

•What is often the year's best meteor shower comes last, the Geminids on the night of Dec. 13 and morning of Dec. 14. As many as 120 meteors per hour can be visible at the show's peak, and a waxing crescent moon means viewing conditions could be good.

sdance@baltsun.com

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