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telescopeWhat's happening in the heavens this year?

Just up ahead, check out the phases of the moon. solar and lunar eclipses and notable meteor showers in 2016, along with a rare Mercury in transit occurance on May 9, 2016.

Happy star gazing!

  2016 solar eclipses 2016 lunar eclipses
  2016 Geminids meteor shower 2016 Orionids meteor shower
  2016 Leonids meteor shower 2016 Perseids meteor shower

Moon Phases 2016

It's no surprise that the word month is derived from the moon's phases. For timekeepers and calendar makers, the moon's phases have helped keep the days passing like clock-work for centuries.

For amateur astronomers, knowing the moon's phases has practical importance. They mark the best nights of the year to set up the telescope. A full moon -- for one obvious example -- provides optimum viewing with a clear picture of the surface. The new moon (or when the moon is hidden in total darkness between the Earth and the sun) proves the best time to view faint objects that are ordinarily hidden from view by the moon's bright visage.


new moonNew Moon first quarter moonFirst Quarter full moonFull Moon last quarter moonLast Quarter

  January 2, 12:31AM
January 9, 8:31AM January 16, 6;27PM January 23, 8:46PM January 31, 10:29PM
February 8, 9:40AM February 15, 2;47AM February 22, 1:20PM March 1, 6:12PM
March 8, 8:55PM March 15,1:04PM March 23, 8:01AM March 31, 11:18AM
April 7, 7:25AM April 14, 12AM April 22, 1:25AM April 29, 11:30AM
May 6, 3:31PM May 13, 1:03 PM May 21 5:16PM May 29, 8:13AM
June 4, 11:01PM June 12, 4:10AM June 20, 7:04AM June 27, 2:20PM
July 4, 7:03AM July 11,8:52PM July 19, 6:59PM July 26, 7:02PM
August 2, 4:46PM August 10, 2:22PM August 18, 5:29AM August 24, 11:44PM
September 1, 5:04AM September 9, 7:50AM September 16, 3:07PM September 23, 5:59AM
September 30, 8:13PM October 9, 12:35AM October 16, 12:25AM October 22, 3:16PM
October 30, 1:39PM November 7, 2:52PM November 14, 8:53AM November 21, 3:34AM
November 29, 7:19AM December 7, 4;03AM December 13, 7:06PM December 20, 8:56PM
December 29, 1:54AM      

Lunar eclipses in 2016

Lunar eclipses happen when the Earth is aligned in such a way that it temporarily blocks the sun from reaching the moon. The show begins as the moon passes through Earth's shadow, turning a full moon into a half moon to a slight crescent. At its height, a total eclipse eerily turns the entire moon a rusty orange hue.

total lunar eclipse

This year, two lunar eclipses will appear months apart, but they won't be as spectacular as those that have occurred in recent years. Prenumbral eclipses of the moon are on the celestial calendar for 2016 -- meaning that the earth, moon and sun won't be as perfectly aligned -- resulting only in a faint darkening of the moon during their height.

The first prenumbral eclipse to occur in 2016 will be on March 23, 2016 and will be visible from most parts of Asia, Australia, North America, and most of South America. The second prenumbral luner eclipse will occur on September 16-17, 2016 and will be visible from Europe, most parts of Asia and Australia and from eastern Africa.

Again, due to the faint difference in how brightly the moon shines during a prenumbral eclipse even skilled moon watchers will have a difficult time discerning when the eclipse occurs. So keep a sharp eye on when it occurs or you might miss it!

2016 solar eclipses

Although there are two solar eclipse that will occur in 2016 most of the Western world will not be in line to view them. The first, occurring March 8-9, 2016, will be a total solar eclipse visible from Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi and from locations in the Pacific ocean. This eclipse will be a partial one in South and East Asia and northern and eastern Australia.

safely view a solar eclipse
A simple pinhole projection is the
safest way to view a solar eclipse.

The second occurrence on September 1, 2016 is an annular solar eclipse that will travel over central Africa, Madagascar and locations from the Atlantic and Indian Oceans.

Perhaps even more spectacular than a total eclipse, an annular solar eclipse happens when the moon covers the sun's center, leaving visible the outer edges to form a “ring of fire”.

All about solar eclipses

As the moon passes between the Earth and the sun during a partial eclipse, the sun resembles more of a crescent with only a section of it visible. During a total eclipse, the moon's shadow totally blocks out the sun.

While a total solar eclipse may make for more drama, a partial solar eclipse is still worth a watch! Note, however, that safety tips which apply to a total eclipse also apply to a partial eclipse -- meaning, precautions against eye damage.

The safest way to view any solar eclipse? Construct a simple pinhole projection by poking a hole in a sheet of paper or cardboard. Then, hold another sheet of paper directly behind it to witness the eclipse as it happens (see illustration.)  This allows you, or an entire group of friends, to view the eclipse while avoiding any chance of eye exposure to the sun's harmful rays.

Finally, if you use a camera or telescope to view a solar eclipse always be sure to attach a solar filter to the lens before viewing.

Transit of Mercury 2016

In 2016, Mercury transits the sun from east to west.

This year, watch for rare transit of Mercury across the face of the Sun on May 9, 2016.

The planet will appear as a black dot moving across the face of the sun. Much like watching a solar eclipse, special precautions are usually issued to view it (see above).

Watch for the transit on May 9 beginning at 18:42 UT (1:42PM Eastern time in the US) and lasting for about 7 hours. Because of the position of the sun during the transit, Europe and the Eastern and Central US will enjoy optimum visibility.

The last transit of Mercury happened in November 2006. The next transits are scheduled to occur on November 11, 2019 and November 13, 2032.

also see --> Astronomy photo gallery | Summer solstice | Winter solstice

More about astronomy around the Web:

Discover an out-of-this-world guide to the best sites for learning more about Saturn, Mars, Jupiter, and Planet Earth, along with the latest on upcoming solar and lunar eclipses and related resources leading further afield to distant galaxies ...

NASA - Mars
- What's going on up there? Find out with the most recent photos, data feeds, Rover explorations, Mars Orbiter updates, plus what scientists are doing behind the scenes and lots more...

Hubble-site - The latest and greatest shots take from the Hubble Space Telescope.

Eclipses Online - Is there one forecast? Check out a complete encyclopedia of eclipses searchable by year and featuring diagrams, animations, facts and information on lunar and solar eclipses up to the year 2100.

AstroLINKS - A major space portal with thousands of related links searchable by keyword or via dozens of categories including black holes, asteroids, meteor showers, comets, the Big Bang theory and more, plus breaking news, glossary.

Astronomy for Kids - Here's a way cool site presenting the solar system in digestible bites and pictures, along with Q&A, star maps, puzzles and related resources.

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