Skywatchers are in for an (inter)stellar treat this week. Look up and you can gaze upon a dazzling view of Venus, Mars and the moon Monday and Tuesday nights, according to EarthSky.
Venus and Mars have been moving toward one another all weekend, culminating in their closest meeting during the early hours of Tuesday, July 13, around 3 a.m. ET. As seen from Earth, the planets will appear only half a degree – or only a finger’s width – apart, according to NASA. This meeting of planets in the sky is referred to as a planetary conjunction.
This is just an illusion, of course, because the two planets are extremely far apart in reality.
“Even during this conjunction, they will still be many millions of miles apart,” said Giada Arney in a video on NASA’s website. “But from our point of view here on Earth, they will appear to be close together.” Arney is a research space scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center and a deputy principal investigator of the upcoming DAVINCI+ mission to Venus. DAVINCI+ stands for Deep Atmosphere Venus Investigation of Noble gases, Chemistry, and Imaging Plus.
Since this timing coincides with the young moon’s return to the night sky, the conjunction of Venus and Mars will appear alongside a slim crescent moon that is only 10% illuminated.
Most observers will be able to see the three celestial bodies both Monday and Tuesday evenings, according to NASA. Viewers can look west about 45 minutes after sunset to spot the event these nights, but it can be viewed through July 14 if there are clear skies.
Venus, the closest to Earth and the brightest planet in the night sky, will appear very slightly above the red planet. Mars, planet of war, mythologically speaking, will be much smaller and dimmer in comparison to the glowing Venus, planet of love. First look for gleaming Venus, then shift your eyes slightly below for the smaller speck that is Mars.
Venus and Mars are both in the night sky in July, slowly approaching and eventually passing one another. Venus started the month below Mars and is moving up and away from the setting sun as the red planet drops and approaches the setting sun.
The red planet is most visible at the start of July and becomes more difficult to spot as the month comes and goes, according to EarthSky. You likely won’t see it at all come August. Venus, however, will remain in the evening sky for the rest of the year, reaching its greatest brightness on December 4 along with the new moon.
The conjunction is just one of the spectacular events you can catch in the night sky this year. Here is what else you can look forward to in 2021.
Typical of a normal year, 2021 has 12 full moons. (There were 13 full moons last year, two of which were in October.)
Here are all of the full moons remaining this year and their names, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac:
July 23 – buck moon
August 22 – sturgeon moon
September 20 – harvest moon
October 20 – hunter’s moon
November 19 – beaver moon
December 18 – cold moon
Be sure to check for the other names of these moons as well, attributed to their respective Native American tribes.
The Delta Aquariids meteor shower is best seen from the southern tropics and will peak between July 28 and 29, when the moon is 74% full.
Interestingly, another meteor shower peaks on the same night – the Alpha Capricornids. Although this is a much weaker shower, it has been known to produce some bright fireballs during its peak. It will be visible for everyone, regardless of which side of the equator you are on.
The Perseid meteor shower, the most popular of the year, will peak between August 11 and 12 in the Northern Hemisphere, when the moon is only 13% full.
Here is the meteor shower schedule for the rest of the year, according to EarthSky’s meteor shower outlook.
• October 8: Draconids
• October 21: Orionids
• November 4 to 5: South Taurids
• November 11 to 12: North Taurids
• November 17: Leonids
• December 13 to 14: Geminids
• December 22: Ursids
Solar and lunar eclipses
This year, there will be one more eclipse of the sun and another eclipse of the moon, according to The Old Farmer’s Almanac.
November 19 will see a partial eclipse of the moon, and skywatchers in North America and Hawaii can view it between 1 a.m. ET and 7:06 a.m. ET.
And the year will end with a total eclipse of the sun on December 4. It won’t be visible in North America, but those in the Falkland Islands, the southern tip of Africa, Antarctica and southeastern Australia will be able to spot it.
Skywatchers will have multiple opportunities to spot the planets in our sky during certain mornings and evenings throughout 2021, according to the Farmer’s Almanac planetary guide.
It’s possible to see most of these with the naked eye, with the exception of distant Neptune, but binoculars or a telescope will provide the best view.
Mercury will look like a bright star in the morning sky from June 27 to July 16 and October 18 to November 1. It will shine in the night sky from August 31 to September 21, and November 29 to December 31.
Venus, our closest neighbor in the solar system, will appear in the western sky at dusk in the evenings through December 31. It’s the second-brightest object in our sky, after the moon.
Mars makes its reddish appearance in the morning sky between November 24 and December 31, and it will be visible in the evening sky through August 22.
Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system, is the third-brightest object in our sky. It will be on display in the morning sky through August 19. Look for it in the evenings August 20 to December 31 – but it will be at its brightest from August 8 to September 2.
Saturn’s rings are only visible through a telescope, but the planet itself can still be seen with the naked eye in the mornings through August 1 and in the evenings from August 2 to December 31. It will be at its brightest during the first four days of August.
Binoculars or a telescope will help you spot the greenish glow of Uranus in the mornings through November 3 and in the evenings from November 4 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between August 28 and December 31.
And our most distant neighbor in the solar system, Neptune, will be visible through a telescope in the mornings through September 13 and during the evenings September 14 to December 31. It will be at its brightest between July 19 and November 8.