Guide to the Best Astronomical Sights of 2014

Orion climbs over snow-clad spruce trees to welcome in the new year. Credit: Bob King

As the 2013 comes to an end, we look back for a moment at the year’s biggest stories then telescope into the new year to check out all the astronomical sights that await us.

Here are my picks for 2013′s Top Ten stories in order of importance:

1. Chelyabinsk meteorite fall over Russia Feb. 15
2. Comet ISON’s dusty endComets Lovejoy and PANSTARRS pick up the slack
3. Curiosity discovers water-tumbled pebbles on Mars
4. China’s Chang’e 3 mission lands on the moon
5. Voyager I probe enters interstellar space
6. Juno’s extremely flyby of Earth en route to Jupiter
7. Cassini’s photo of Earth, Mars and Venus taken from Saturn
8. Kepler spacecraft’s demise and legacy of 3, 603 potential extrasolar planets
9. One of the brightest novae in years flares in Delphinus
10. U.S. government shutdown in October and its effects on NASA

Now on to 2014 and a brand new host of celestial offerings. For the record, the majority of events listed are western hemisphere-centric and visible with the naked eye or binoculars. Times and dates are Central Standard or Central Daylight as noted. Clear skies!

January 

1 – The very first day of the year offers the opportunity for North American observers to break their personal “youngest crescent moon” record. The moon will be just 12 hours old from the Midwest and 14 hour from the West Coast.

Watch for meteors from the Quadrantid shower before dawn on Jan. 3. Credit: John Chumack

3 – The peak of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower with a sharp maximum occurring at 1:30 p.m. (CST) on 1/3. Best time for viewing from North America will be 5-6:30 a.m. Jan. 3. The evening crescent moon will not interfere; eastern hemisphere skywatchers will have a dark sky at peak.

5 – Jupiter at opposition to the sun in Gemini and closest and brightest for the year. The planet rises at sunset and stays up all night. Great time for telescope viewing!

11 – Venus passes between the Earth and sun at inferior conjunction. For a week on either side of this date, you can see the planet as an exceedingly thin crescent in the daytime sky.

14 – Venus reappears very low in the eastern dawn sky 30 minutes before sunrise about this time

31 – Mercury at greatest elongation east of the sun and well-placed for viewing during evening twilight. Joined by a very thin crescent moon this day.

February 

14 – Give that special someone a big kiss under tonight’s Valentine’s Day full moon

26 – Spectacular close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus at dawn as seen from Europe and Africa. The two will be separated by only 0.3 degrees.

March

10 – The waxing gibbous moon occults the 3.6 magnitude star Lambda Geminorum for North America this evening.


Demonstration and path of the Erigone occultation of Regulus 

20 – Asteroid 167 Erigone occults the bright star Regulus for observers living in a 45-mile-wide (72 km) band from New York City into Ontario, Canada. For those in the center of the path, Regulus will blank out for 12 seconds. The whole event will be easily visible with the naked eye. More information HERE.

20 – Spring (vernal equinox) begins in the northern hemisphere at 11:57 a.m. (CST)

Ganymede and Io will cast their shadows on Jupiter’s cloud tops for North and South American skywatchers on March 23. Credit: Created with Claude Duplessis Meridian software

21 – Saturn and the waning gibbous moon in close conjunction only 0.3 degrees apart as seen from Europe and Africa. Western hemisphere observers will see them about 3 degrees apart.

22 – Venus reaches greatest elongation of 47 degrees west of the sun in the morning sky. Despite its great separation from the sun, the planet will stand only about 15 degrees high at sunrise from mid-northern latitudes.

23 – Double shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede occurs from about 9:10-35 p.m. CDT. Easy to see in a small telescope.

April

8 – Mars at opposition and closest to the Earth since 2008. March-April will be the best time to observe the planet, when it’s up all night in the constellation Virgo near the bright star Spica and shining at magnitude -1.5, nearly as bright as Sirius.

The first of two total lunar eclipse in 2014 happens overnight April 15-16. Credit: NASA

15 – Total eclipse of the moon! The moon slips into Earth’s inner shadow starting at 12:58 a.m. CDT with maximum eclipse at 2:46 a.m. More information HERE.

15 – Asteroid Vesta at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 5.5. It should be easily visible with the naked eye from a dark sky site.

22 – Peak of the annual Lyrid meteor shower this morning with rates of 10-20 meteors per hour. Look to the south in wee hours before dawn. Some interference from the last quarter moon.

29 – Annular solar eclipse visible from Australia, the Southern Indian Ocean and Antarctica. More information HERE.

May

6 – Early morning peak of the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower with rates of around 30 per hour. Each flash represents the burn-up of a small crumb left by Halley’s Comet.

10 – Saturn at opposition and brightest and closest for the year shining at magnitude 0. The rings will be inclined some 22 degrees to our line of sight, almost wide open. The planet will appear noticeably “out of round” in binoculars and present a beautiful sight in any size telescope.

24 - Possible big-time meteor shower from comet 209P/LINEAR when Earth passes through dust trails it deposited a century ago. Expect a peak between 2-3 a.m. (CST) with rates of 100+ per hour possible. No interference from the morning crescent moon.

25 – Mercury at greatest elongation east of the sun and easily visible low in the northwestern sky during evening twilight for observers in mid-northern latitudes.

June

3 – Triple shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede from 18:05 – 19:44 Greenwich time. Eastern Europe is favored. Not visible from the U.S.

21 – Start of summer (summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere at 12:51 a.m. CDT

Venus and the thin crescent at dawn on June 24. Stellarium

21 and for several days around this time – The International Space Station remains in sunlight throughout its orbit for northern hemisphere observers allowing us to see it on multiple passes throughout the night.

24 – Close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus at dawn. With the moon so close you can use it to spot the planet even after sunrise.

July 

5 – First quarter moon and Mars in conjunction less than a degree apart at dusk.

5 – Asteroids Ceres and Vesta – targets of NASA’s Dawn Mission – are less than 1/5 degree apart in Virgo during early evening hours. A rare event!

12 – The first of three “Super Moons” of 2014. The moon reaches perigee, closest to Earth, only 21 hours before it’s full and will appear slightly larger than a typical full moon.

29 – Peak of the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower with a maximum of 20 per hour after midnight.

August 

10 – Biggest Full Moon of the year! The moon turns full at 1:09 p.m. CDT. Nine minutes earlier it will have arrived at its closest point to Earth in 2014 of 221,765 miles (356,896 km).

12-13 – Peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower with rates of around 60-80 per hour. Spoiled this year by a bright moon just two days past full.

Comet Oukaimeden may glow around 8th magnitude in late August 2014 when it rises with the winter stars before dawn. Stellarium

18 – Spectacular close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in the morning sky. They’ll be just 1/4 degree apart as seen from Europe and slightly wider by the time the pair rises for North and South American observers.

23 – Beautiful grouping of the thin crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus in the morning sky

25 – Mars and Saturn just 3.4 degrees apart in conjunction in the evening sky

27 – Comet C/2013 Oukaimeden should be within reach of binoculars in the morning sky near Orion.

29 – Neptune at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 7.8 in Aquarius

September

5 – Venus passes just 0.7 degrees north of Leo’s brightest star Regulus this morning in the east before sunrise.

8 – The final Super Moon of 2014 occurs 22 hours after perigee

22 – First day of fall (autumnal equinox) begins at 9:29 p.m. CDT in the northern hemisphere

October

Diagram show the moon’s path through Earth inner umbral shadow during the Oct. 8 total lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA

7 – Uranus at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 5.7 in Pisces

8 – Total eclipse of the moon, the second visible from the U.S. this year. Partial eclipse begins at 4:15 a.m. CDT with totality occurring from 5:25 – 6:24 a.m. Only the East Coast will miss a small portion of this eclipse. More information HERE.

19 – Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring encounters Mars. It will pass close enough that the coma may envelop the planet with a potential meteor storm to boot. Mars will be 151 million miles from Earth at the time and located in the constellation Ophiuchus and visible low in the southwestern sky at dusk.

18 – Comet C/2012 K1 PANSTARRS should be nearing peak brightness of magnitude 5.5. Mid-northern latitude observers can watch for it low in the southern sky in Puppis before dawn.

22 – The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks this morning with up to 25 meteors per hour visible. With the moon a day before new, dark skies will rule.

Diagram showing the visibility of the Oct. 23 partial solar eclipse. Credit: NASA

23 – Partial solar eclipse visible across the U.S. and Canada during late afternoon hours. At maximum for the central U.S. about half the sun will be covered by the moon. Click HERE for more information.

 

November 

1 – Mercury reaches greatest elongation west of the sun and shines brightly at magnitude -0.5 in the morning sky for skywatchers in mid-northern latitudes. Best morning appearance of the year.

17 – Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. This year is an off-year for the Leonids with only 10-15 meteors visible per hour. Glare from the thick waning crescent moon will interfere somewhat.

December

7 – Double shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Io occurs from 10:18 – 10:27 p.m. CST. They shadows will be on exactly opposite sides of the planet.

14 – Peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the richest and most reliable meteor showers with rates topping 100 per hour. Expect maximum activity overnight Dec. 13-14. Some interference from the last quarter moon after midnight.

21 – Start of winter (winter solstice) at 5:03 p.m. CST

If you know of an important event that I may have missed, please drop me a line at rking@duluthnews.com

Thanks everyone and enjoy a Happy New Year!

 

39 thoughts on “Guide to the Best Astronomical Sights of 2014

  1. Bob, thanks for the coming attractions for 2014 – I’ll bookmark this page!
    Looking back on 2013, I’d be tempted to add the other PanSTARRS – C/2011 L4 – to the #2 Top Ten story. ‘Twas a rather nice and very photogenic comet. At the start of the year it was advertised as a preview of the Great Comet ISON, but as happens at concerts sometimes, it became a case of the preview being better than the main show!

  2. I suppose that it is possible from a dark site for sharp eyed observers to pick out Lovejoy with the naked eye during the first days of January. Comets this week predicts a 5.9 on Jan. 4. That is probably fairly accurate. If so that would make nearly 2 months of naked eye viewing of this comet, when it was predicted at discovery, only to become bright enough to see in large binoculars.

  3. And Bob, that’s a fantastic view of Orion at the top of this story. It captures the look and feel of winter in the North Country (or, for us in Colorado, the High Country); my feet get cold and my eyes water just looking at it!

  4. hey Bob, thx so much for this guide! Great work here. I plan to refer to this regularly. And i had no idea about the lambda geminorum or erigone occultations (maybe u could link to a visibility map for the former, at least when it approaches?). Hmmm, possible additions. Perhaps Venus’ greatest brilliancy upcoming (altho we have been feasting on Venus so much lately that it doesn’t seem so exciting i guess), Vesta at opposition when it may be naked-eye visible, maybe the farthest N and S full moons of the year, DEFINITELY the Saturn-Mars conjunction in August, and probably Uranus’ opposition in November. And finally, perhaps an honorable mention for mid-July’s Mercury W elongation? And are we still incapable of forecasting aurorae months in advance?

    • Hi Sean,
      Thank you very much for the suggestions. I chose not to include Venus greatest brilliancy since it’s so low (for northern hemisphere observers) in the morning sky this upcoming apparition. Likewise, the July Mercury elongation is very slight compared to the favorable ones on the list. North and south full moons didn’t register high enough on the visual interest scale for me to include. I tried to include only the most spectacular conjunctions, but I’ll bite on Mars-Saturn, also the Vesta and Uranus oppositions. Sometimes it’s tough to draw the line since there are so many cool things happenings especially in the conjunction department. Thanks again for your suggestions. I appreciate it.

  5. Probably the easiest time to see Uranus is not whn it is at opposition, but when it is near a bright planet. Maybe, I missed it but are there any close Venus Uranus conjunctions this year?

  6. interesting point brought up on earthsky: if defined as when the moon is within some certain distance of the earth, supermoons don’t have to happen near full moon. (of course you can define them as only occurring near full moon, alternately.) by the former definition, we have two supermoons this month in addition to the 3 in the summer. here’s a link to the page that made me think of this: http://earthsky.org/tonight/two-supermoons-in-just-one-month-january-1-and-30-2014

  7. Hello AstroBob!!
    Quick question to you…. you ‘set me straight’ on Christmas day about viewing planetary alignments from space VS my balcony midday.
    Unsure where to post but thought this might pertain…..
    Ever since my midday ‘rock/venus’ sighting in the sky Dec 25, I’m now considering a (very) nice telescope for use here at home…

    So…. since I obviously cannot afford the retiring Huble…. if I offer up a couple of choices here — might you be able to give me your best thoughts?
    While everyone is a beginner at everything to some extent, I’m always pushing my options for the future ‘wants’. Who wants to spend $200 when they could have spent (a one-time) $400 for a satisfied future viewing.

    That said…. I’ll hope I’m not mashing up your categories by posting here. If so, please accept my apologies. While doing a google search, your site came up and it was like finding an old friend. If you can’t help, perhaps you’ve a site that can offer up (IYHO) the best info.

    Thanks so much AstroB!!! You still ,and will always Rock!

    • Always Searching,
      Hi and welcome back! I’d recommend the Orion 8-inch Dobsonian reflector at around 400 bucks. An 8-inch is a great mid-level scope – plenty of light gathering power and easy to tote around. Check it out at: http://bit.ly/L7gv9P
      There’s also a more souped up version of same on the Orion site.

      • Unsure how you did it… but after much time researching online (and ignoring responsible life-things)…. I came to the following. The first is my latest-greatest want. However perhaps I do not need to spend my $$$ on it (but I’m thinking I just might have to). Your ’8-inch’ comment was my hope. So, here it goes (in order of findings/now thinking=’poss yes’.

        1) Orion 8″ f/3.9 Newtonian Astrograph Reflector Telescope
        ($500 on Orion site, amazon still waiting for price/avail)
        ….. oh gosh is she nice! …. and the pics…. oh my!!!!

        but, if that’s a bit out of my budget…. whaddya think of:

        2) The Orion SpaceProbe 130ST Equatorial Reflector Telescope? (http://www.telescope.com/Orion-SpaceProbe-130ST-Equatorial-Reflector-Telescope/p/9007.uts)

        While completely different ‘beings’…. somehow after finding the SpaceProbe 130ST, I bumped into the 8″ f/3.9. Newtonian.

        My biggest thing is: MUST BE ABLE TO TRANSPORT to roof/in car/and whatnot WITHOUT NEEDING A TABLE. I did read that the Dobs offer fab ‘whatnots’ but I’ve the need for fast&easy setup/transportation.

        If it helps, I’ve already a top-o-the-line camera tripod that I’m willing to use with a ‘stand-alone tele’ but that darned 8″ f/3.9 just caught my eye and now I’m sort of hooked. The price was more than I wanted to spend, but of course — Orion comes thru with a ‘payment plan’ more suited to my needs that allows my needs the most extraodinary poss photos of all time (for me :) .

        Sorry for the delay in a ‘thank you’ Mr Bob….. life and such…. but please do know, that you are now my best friend ever in regards to this absolutely lovely universe that we all live in! I’m gonna trust your ‘call’. I don’t think there’s many brick&mortors anymore to actually visit/test these teles….. you dear sir are my main man.

        Thank you so very very much for taking the time to help a knowledge-less gal :)

        • Always searching,
          Don’t bother with the 130ST. Too small, not enough aperture, and I don’t trust small equatorial mounts to work very well in cold weather. As for the 8″ f/3.9 it’s $500 and that’s without a mount. By the time you’re done, it’ll be around $800. While that scope has nice things, it’s optimized for astrophotography and has a very fast f/ratio. That means it will likely show more aberrations (streaked or curved stars called coma) around the edge of the field of view unless you buy a coma corrector (another $100 or so). That’s my opinion, but I’d love to hear what others think AND recommend too.

          • Well MrBob…. once again I thank you for your time and opinion! I shall def reconsider the 8″ f3/.9…. I’m just a small-time gal with small-time funds (even though I’d like to get something that will suit me for my further interests down the road (rather than buy a similar something twice)). Likewise with the Orion 130ST.

            I love your thoughts (and the reviews) on the Orion 8″ Dob…. but my deep-space travels mainly occur ‘in the middle of nowhere/here at home on the roof/and sans an available table to set something on. Perhaps I need to rethink the ‘table-like-setup’…. always good to get the best suggestion from a prominent knowledgeable person, that’s for sure.

            I just thought that since I already had the utmost-best tripod my $$ could buy, that getting a tele that brings Saturn (and more) into my living room (of which there is no table) —– well, I just thought that an easy hikeable-kind of setup would be best for me.

            I so appreciate you taking the time for my inquiries over the last few months…. from rocks in the sky to telescope suggestions…. you’ve been the kind soul that apparently perhaps a higher entity brought me to. And for that, I thank you.
            ….. I’m still contemplating options; I am tired of jumping stars in my 10×40 binos…. and shall let you know how it all works out once a decision is made :)

            Thanks AstroBob… as usual – you rock and my thanks are ‘a thousand-fold numerous’ to you!
            ….AlwaysSearching&Watching :)

          • Okay AstroBob…. looking at the Orion site is one thing…. and having life interrupt our conversation led me to a google search of a lifesize picture of this tele that you recommend just after my prior post……. OH MY GOSH!!!!! OH MY GOSH!!!!

            It appears that no table is required…. just a nice comfy chair!!!! :)
            While I’ll still consider my options until life tosses me a curve…. right now your suggestion is looking like ‘the buy of a lifetime’!!!!!

            Thank you thank you thank you thank you!!!!! Glad I searched for a life-size pic of this puppy!!!!! I’ll drop a pic or two your way should it all come together :)
            You rock Bob, thank you.
            Sincerely yours in the heavens above but from below them….. dawn :)

          • And in an afterthought for others (just in case)…. I pictured the Orion 8″ Dob as a little coffee table sized ‘viewfinder’ of the stars….. oh boy was I wrong!!!

            This link should give others wondering ‘as I did just what to expect (size-wise) from the 8″ Dob’:
            https://i1.ytimg.com/vi/PYQFIB1xdGY/hqdefault.jpg
            I expected the little tele on the left-hand side of the picture to be what AstroBob rec’d….. nope! Tis the BIG THING on the right hand side of the pic!!!! Oh boy…. what kind of fun will that offer someone!!!! Oh boy…. I’m kinda thinking that I’ll just have to share ‘that fun’ sometime soon after this puppy arrives!
            Thanks again Bob….. you be ‘da man’ !!

          • A FINAL QUESTION TO YOU…..

            …. that may have been my shortest ‘sign-off’ ever, but whatever…..

            So MrAstroBob…. here’s my conundrum…..

            I am trying to decide between the following:
            1) The Orion Limited Edition SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Bundle ( http://www.telescope.com/Orion-Limited-Edition-SkyQuest-XT8-Classic-Dobsonian-Bundle/p/101452.uts?keyword=skyquest%20xt8 )
            OR
            2) The Orion SkyQuest XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope ( http://www.telescope.com/Orion-SkyQuest-XT8-PLUS-Dobsonian-Reflector-Telescope/p/102780.uts?keyword=skyquest%20xt8#tabs )

            Color matters not. Viewing & Photo capability does.

            Both offer additional lenses…….. I shall let you call out ‘what if either offering is worthy’ regarding the lenses.

            AND if reading correctly, both offer a “35mm DeepView 2″ telescope eyepiece which allows a nice 56 degree viewing —– that sounds nice!

            The PLUS however offers (less lenses if I’m not confused by now), and also includes a lighter stand (nice, but not necessary) —— my big thing is that it offers not only the basic smooth 2″ Crayford focuser just like the Limited Edition —- but the focuser ALSO offers a dual-speed 11.1 fine focus.

            IS THE DUAL SPEED FOCUSER something that really makes a difference?????

            I am leaving this choice up to you MrBob……
            Which tele would you get (of the two)????????????

            My celestial regards forever-more to you sir!
            Please tell me, which is the better deal…. which is the better OVERALL scope that allows photo and ‘sightseeing’ in your humble opinion???
            Are the add-ons superior enough to weigh one over the other?
            Will I be limited to ‘whatever’ the atmosphere allows even though they say ‘fab and magnificient’?

            Again…. I be just a poor city gal looking for simple entertainment in the night skys.
            $50 bucks here and there add up….. so kind sir….. what’s your choice?

            PS: just a quickie question otherwise….
            With these high/deep-space teles, can one also view terrestrial decently?
            (had to add cuz if that’s poss…. oh boy howdy would that make my life fab!)

            Thanks again AstroBob…. my celestial dreamguy! :)

          • AlwaysSearching,
            While it’s not absolutely necessary, fine focusing is something I wish I had on any of my scopes. For the little extra, it’s worth it. Plus, the PLUS version includes a solar filter. Nice!

        • OKAY!!!!
          THE PLUS is the ONE to buy!!!!!

          Oh boy AstroBob….. while you may have cost me a penny or two more…….. you made the initial rec and I followed up ………. SO, this purchase is on me!!! :)
          But, twas not for you…. I’d never know how one might kill for the ‘fine-tuning focus knob’ AND ‘a solar filter’…… oh boy, I’ve a new telescope to be ordered!!!
          Thank you AstroBob…. thank you. And perhaps, just perhaps…. my future generations will thank you too :)

          WhewWhooooooo!!!!! I am off to buy a telescope folks!!!!! Yep, yep I am and it’s got ‘the seal’ from AstroBob!!!! Thank you sir.
          …. in due time (Orion has a lay-away program and that’s my route), but in due time I too shall be a submitter of fancy cosmic and asteral stuff!!!!

          • AlwaysSearching,
            As always, it’s my pleasure. A couple things to remember with your new scope — let it cool down before using or you will be greatly disappointed by the images. They’ll be mushy. Another thing — don’t expect to see what photos show. Most objects except planets and the very brightest nebulae are ghostly gray and very delicate compared to their photographic appearance. Also, you may not notice a lot of details in galaxies and nebulae at first. Repeated observation will train your eyes to see more and more.

  8. PS:
    The only access I’d like to buy might be ‘that-upside-rightside-up-thingee’ for terrestrial viewing (although I’ve not a clue just how ‘terrestrial’ a nice scope could be. So yea, I’m not into buying much more for fab viewing at first…. that can be added later.
    Felt the need to add that….. and so very sorry for using excess databytes in my PS here. Thank you again AstroBob!

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