Week of December 24-30, 2017
I really enjoy the beginning of a new year. It's always brimming with hope and optimism, as well as endless lists of resolutions we swear we're going to attack but only work toward for a few days at most.
There is one resolution, however, that can easily carry us through the entire year: keeping watch on the heavens. And believe me — 2018 will be, without question, quite good to sky watchers!
The year begins with a terrific total lunar eclipse on the night of Jan. 30/31, and those in the western North American, Asia and the South Pacific will be in prime viewing position. A second occurs on the night of July 27/28 but will be visible only to sky watchers in Africa and the Middle East. Three partial solar eclipses occur as well, but the first two will be seen only by penguins in Antarctica and the southern tip of South America, and the third will be visible only in northern China, Mongolia, Russia and Scandinavia.
For the first few months of the year, no planets will appear in our evening sky, but by springtime the brilliant planet Venus will appear in the western sky at dusk. Not only will it shine there all spring and summer but it will also regularly team up with the delicate crescent moon to create spectacles that will get everyone talking and gazing skyward.
Other planets will also join the show in 2018. In early May, the giant planet Jupiter will reach its closest and brightest, and by the end of June, the ringed planet Saturn will also appear. One additional bright planet, Mars, comes into view during evening hours beginning in late July. Together, these planets — Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn — will provide a great summer of planet-gazing.
Meteor shower fans will be delighted to learn that in 2018, both the Perseid and the Geminid meteor showers will be visible with no moonlight at all. The Perseids will peak on the night of Aug. 12/13 but begin to show some good activity the Saturday night before. The prolific and brilliant Geminids are expected to reach their peak on the night of Dec. 14/15. The thick crescent moon will be in the sky during early evening hours but set before midnight so that the post-midnight and pre-dawn hours are dark. Be sure to schedule your vacation days now, while you're thinking of it!
And, of course, as we approach the spring equinox of the year, the magical and colorful aurora borealis — the northern lights — will be dancing across the arctic skies. If we're lucky, they may even descend far enough south for those of us in the Lower 48 to get a rare glimpse.
You might like to join me for some of these remarkable celestial events, or at least follow them from your own home. If so, I hope you'll check my website and Facebook page to keep up with celestial activities throughout the year. And please feel free to drop me a note if you have any questions.
In the meantime, happy New Year, and get ready for another truly exhilarating year of celestial wonder!
Visit Dennis Mammana at www.dennismammana.com. To read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at www.creators.com.