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Celestial outlook: The sun, moon and shooting stars in 2021

Mark your calendars
(WABI)
Published: Jan. 11, 2021 at 10:01 AM AKST
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Even half-hearted skywatchers will be thrilled with what 2021 has to offer with a solar eclipse and supermoon lunar eclipse in the first half of the year. As with so many celestial events, the question is, will Alaskans be able to see it?

Supermoons and supermoon lunar eclipse

Broadly speaking, a supermoon is when the full moon coincides with the moon’s perigee or the closest point to Earth in its orbit. A supermoon will look bigger and brighter than other full moons. Depending on who you ask, 2021 will have two to four supermoons. The two everyone seems to agree upon are April 26 and May 26. In both cases, the full moon will be within 223,000 miles of Earth (222,211.7 miles and 222,116.6 miles respectively)

Two scientists, Richard Nole who coined the term “supermoon” in 1979, and Fred Espenak, a retired NASA astrophysicist, both use slightly different definitions, saying a full moon at 90% or greater to perigee should also be considered a supermoon. If you use Espenaks’s definition, the full moons on March 28 and June 24 will also be supermoons.

The supermoon on May 26 will also occur during a total lunar eclipse. Most of Alaska is on the path to see the full eclipse. Areas north of the Brooks Range are the main exceptions. The best views will be southwest Alaska from Bethel, south and west through the Aleutians. Areas north and east of there—including the West Coast, Interior, Southcentral and the Panhandle—will see the eclipse but the moon will drop below the horizon before the final shadows leave the moon’s surface.

Annular solar eclipse

June 10 will bring an annular solar eclipse. A solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the earth and the sun, blocking the sun. An annular eclipse occurs when the moon is further away from earth so appears smaller in the sky. The moon covers the sun but a bright ring remains around the moon.

Nowhere in Alaska will be able to see the full eclipse but many locations will see the partial eclipse. This eclipse is all about timing because it will start at 2:00 a.m. so if the sun isn’t up in your location between 2:00 a.m. and 3:00 a.m. you likely won’t see the eclipse. Point Hope will see the most coverage with 79.9% of the sun covered. Kotzebue and Utqiagvik will also see about 78.8% coverage. Shishmaref will have 31.9% coverage, Fairbanks at 24.3% and Huslia at 19.7%.

For some of the southern locations, the eclipse will begin before sunrise so the rising sun will be partially eclipsed. Areas south of Fairbanks and Nome will not see any part of the eclipse. Never look directly at the sun.

Meteor showers

The familiar round of meteor showers will occur. A lot depends on whether you can see a meteor shower: location, cloud cover, how bright the moon is, and of course, how many meteors there are. The list below shows the peak night of a meteor shower but often on the days leading up and away from the peak, you will still see the occasional meteor/shooting star in the sky.

Lyrids, April 21-22: Alaska has a very good to fair chance to see these meteors. Areas in the southern portion of Alaska have a better opportunity. The challenge will be the moon at almost 70% full that night. The Lyrids are active for about two weeks at the end of April. Even if you miss the peak, keep your eyes to the skies.

Eta Aquarids, May 5-6: Only areas to the south even have a chance to see it. The Aleutians have the best chance to see this meteor shower, weather permitting of course.

Perseids, Aug. 11-12: Alaska has an excellent chance to see these meteors except in areas far to the north where the sky won’t get fully dark, making it harder to spot the meteors. The moon will set just as meteors start to appear so if the weather is good, we could see 50 to 75 meteors per hour during the peak.

Orionids, Oct. 20-21: Fair chances across the state but the moon will be full so meteors will be more difficult to see. The Orionids run from Oct. 2 to Nov. 7 so watch the skies all month.

Leonids, Nov. 16-17: Very good to excellent chances across Alaska except for the moon will be 95% full. The Leonids are visible from Nov. 6 to 30 so other chances should present themselves.

Geminids, Dec. 13-14: Alaska viewers will have excellent viewing opportunities for the Geminids except for the almost full moon once again. The Geminids are active from Dec. 4 to 17 so there are plenty of other opportunities.

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