Astronomers in Cyprus will be served up a treat in 2017 with comets, brighter planets and a solar eclipse set to keep them staring into the night sky.
The big astronomy story for 2017 will be the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of August 21. But there are plenty of other must-see events that will coincide with a special year for astronomy enthusiasts on the island.
The Quadrantid meteor shower already took place earlier this week but there is still plenty to look forward to and this year’s cosmic treats could not have come at a better time for astronomers in Cyprus.
On Tuesday, Cyprus launched it’s first astronomy and space academy which was inaugurated with the main aim being it’s contribution towards international research and astrotourism.
The ceremony was opened by Communications Minister Marios Demetriades.
Cypriot astronomers and astronomy enthusiasts say the first observatory in Troodos will be established in April as it aims to join the astrotourism industry given the island’s favourable climate 200 days of clear night skies.
As viewed from Earth, Mars can veer more than 6 degrees from the ecliptic (about a palm’s width held at arm’s length), but during 2017, it will stay within about 1 degree (a finger’s width) of it.
That positioning will set up a series of telescopic treats; Mars passes so close to most of the classical planets that we’ll be able to see each pairing together in a backyard telescope’s field of view. Everyone will get to see the pairings, regardless of the observer’s location on Earth, but the moment of closest separation with each planet happens on a specific date and time.
Strong binoculars will be powerful enough to see most of these planet pairings, but a small telescope will be even better. You just need to know where to look. Be aware that your telescope may invert and/or flip the view left to right, which might require you to swing your scope in different directions than expected to spot your target.
The planets will still be relatively close to one another on the evenings before and after the close pass, so you may wish to practice finding them ahead of time.
Comet 45P/HMP swings by Earth, Feb. 11
Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova will be heading back to our outer solar system after rounding the sun in December. On Feb. 11, it will reach its closest point (approx. 7.7 million miles, according to National Geographic). Earthlings will be able to catch a glimpse of the tiny fuzzball of ice around dawn.
Annular solar eclipse, Feb. 26
A total solar eclipse happens when the sun, moon and Earth form a straight line, explain scientists from San Francisco’s Exploratorium. During an annular eclipse, the moon does not fully cover the sun because it is too far away, Earth Sky explains. This creates a “ring of fire.”
Sky-watchers in the Southern Hemisphere might be able to witness this event in person, when the moon will block out most sunlight for a few minutes.
Mercury, Mars and the moon will form a triangle, March 29
After sunset, National Geographic reports that in the western sky, we should be able to watch our crescent moon form a triangle with both Mercury and Mars. Mercury is especially hard to spot during most of year. Because of its close proximity to the sun, it typically gets lost in the glare. Near the end of March, however, Mercury will reach its most distant point from the sun. It will appear to bottom right of the moon while Mars appears to the top right.
The moon will meet Jupiter, April 10
The largest planet in our solar system will appear adjacent to the moon just after sunset. National Geographic reports that Jupiter should be “brighter than normal” because the planet will have reached its opposition, its biggest and brightest point in our sky, just three weeks earlier.
Total solar eclipse, Aug. 21, 2017
2017 will be a special year for the contiguous United States, which will see its first total solar eclipse since 1979, according to Earth Sky. The eclipse will occur directly over the country during daylight hours, and depending on weather should be highly visible from coast to coast.
Don’t miss this one! If you do, you’ll have to wait until 2024 for the next solar eclipse over North America.
Venus joins Jupiter, Nov. 13
Jupiter will return in yet another incredible event as it will line up in the sky perfectly parallel and tightly close to Venus. Venus, being much closer to us, will appear much brighter. Look low on the eastern horizon during twilight to spot this event, according to National Geographic.
Leonid meteor shower, Nov. 16-17
During the Leonids, Earth passes through a stream of debris left by the comet Tempel-Tuttle, according to Basic Astronomy. In 1966, the Leonids produced as much as a few thousand meteors per hour, though that has slowed to a much weaker rate of about 10-15 per hour.
Geminid meteor shower, Dec. 6-19
The annual Geminid meteors will reach their peak across North America from Dec. 13 to 14, producing 60-80 meteors per hour. The Geminids are widely considered to be the most reliable meteor shower to catch in any year, according to Basic Astronomy.