Category Archives: Events

A New Meteor Shower on May 24th, 2014?

Earth is predicted to pass through the path of Comet LINEAR on May 24th. LINEAR is a small comet that was discovered just a decade ago. It has a relatively short period, returning to the inner Solar System every five years, and travelling no farther away from the Sun than Jupiter. As a result of LINEAR’s orbit being perturbed during its last encounter with Jupiter, the path of its orbit now crosses the path of Earth’s orbit. Meteor showers occur when Earth crosses the orbital path of a comet, because stony debris are left behind as the icy comet evaporates when heated by the Sun. Since this is Earth’s first pass through this rather compact debris field, some astronomers are predicting a brief but spectacular meteor shower that begins at 2am on May 24th. Look for the peak, the highest number of meteors per hour, at around 3am, and the shower should subside by 4am. To observe, a darker sky is better because fainter meteors can be seen. The origin is near Usra Major’s ‘nose’, so watch a point about half way between the origin and the zenith (the point directly above your head). Be sure to dress warmly and sit in something comfortable, like a reclining lawn chair.

Lyrids Meteor Shower – April 22-23, 2014

Named meteor showers occur at roughly the same time each year. Astronomers estimate that the this year’s shower will be somewhat subdued because the Moon brightens the sky, which prevents the dimmer meteors from being seen. All of the meteors associated with the Lyrids shower will appear to come from inside the constellation Lyra. Even though the visible meteor trails are likely to begin outside of Lyra, and the end of the trails will be even farther away from Lyra in every direction, all of visible meteor trails associated with this shower can be traced backward to a common point within Lyra. The shower begins around April 16th and occurs every night through about April 25th. The shower will peak (highest number of meteors per hour) on April 22nd and 23rd. Lyra will rise in the east at about 11:30pm during this period, and can be found by locating its bright star Vega using a planisphere or smartphone app. To observe, be sure to dress warmly and sit in something comfortable, like a reclining lawn chair.

Lunar Eclipse – April 15, 2014

The full Moon occurs when the Moon is at the point in its orbit on the side of the Earth opposite the Sun. Another way of describing this, is to say that the Earth is directly between the Sun and Moon when the Moon is full (fully lit). The Earth, like all objects upon which sunlight falls, the casts a shadow. This shadow extends into space in the Moon’s direction at full Moon. The Moon usually misses the Earth’s shadow by passing just a little above or below it at full Moon. But the Moon will pass through the Earth’s shadow this month in the early morning hours of April 15th. The Moon enters the penumbra (the lightest part of the Earth’s shadow) at 12:37am EDT, but the best viewing begins at about 2am when the Moon enters the umbra (the darkest part of the Earth’s shadow). Totality occurs when the Moon is completely inside the umbra from 3:06am until 4:27am, at which time it begins to re-enter the penumbra. This stage of the eclipse is the beginning of the Moon’s exit from the Earth’s shadow. The Moon completely exits the umbra at 5:30am, and the eclipse is completely over when the Moon exits the encumbrance at 6:30am.

There are two really neat things to note about the eclipse. First, the “sunset” effect. The portion of the Moon within the umbra will have a distinct reddish cast as a result of the Sun’s rays passing through the edges of the Earth’s atmosphere. As the eclipse progresses, the umbra can first be seen on the eastern edge of the Moon. Over the next hour or so, the portion of the Moon covered by the umbra will grow larger, until the Moon is completely engulfed by the umbra. The reverse will occur as the Moon slides back out of the umbra. Here’s the other neat thing to note. What the observer is actually watching as the Moon passes through the Earth’s shadow is the Moon moving along it’s orbital path around the Earth.


Events come and go, but are interesting to observe. Event durations can vary from an instant to seconds, minutes or days, or even longer. Examples include eclipses, certain planetary arrangements and alignments, meteor showers, and transits of the Sun. One must know when, where, and how to observe an event in the night sky. Most events covered in Jim Johnson’s Astronomy provide insight into how the Solar System actually works.