Get your calendars out. It’s time to block out the dates of 2019 meteor showers and other celestial events in Virginia, starting with the Quadrantids meteor shower. Typically providing 40 meteors an hour, it peaks Thursday, Jan. 3, and Friday, Jan. 4. The best viewing time is after midnight.
The first full moon of 2019 is a dandy: It’s not only a supermoon, it occurs during a total lunar eclipse, creating what’s known as a blood moon. That’s because the moon takes on a rusty or blood-red color during an eclipse. Expect the blood moon overhead on Sunday, Jan. 20.
In store for 2019 are three supermoons and 12 meteor showers. When full moons appear bigger and brighter than usual as they hang in the sky, that’s the supermoon effect. The moon isn’t actually larger, but it appears particularly large in its closest approach to Earth in its monthly orbit — known as lunar perigee.
Whether you’ll be able to see these celestial events in Virginia is dependent on sky conditions, of course, and the moon could interfere with viewing some meteor showers.
Here’s a look at what to expect over Virginia skies in 2019:
Jan 3-4 — Quadrantids meteor shower: This is an above-average meteor shower, running from Jan. 1-10. It peaks overnight Jan. 3-4 and reliably produces about 40 meteors an hour at its peak. Though the Quadrantids lack persistent trails, they can produce fireballs. Discovered in 2003, the shower is thought to be produced by grain dusts left behind by the extinct comet 2003 EH1. The moon will be only a thin crescent, which should make for prime viewing conditions. The meteors radiate from the constellation Bootes, but you can see them from anywhere in the sky. The best viewing times are after midnight.
Jan. 20-21 — full moon, supermoon and total lunar eclipse: The total lunar eclipse begins on Sunday, Jan. 20, at 11:41 p.m. Eastern Standard Time, with totality continuing for more than hour until 12:43 a.m. on the 21st. During that time, the moon appears red, which accounts for the term “blood moon” assigned to this event. It also is known as the Wolf Moon, a name given to the January full moon because hungry wolves howled near the camps of early Native American tribes. It’s also sometimes called the Old Moon and the Moon After Yule. Most of North America, South America, the eastern Pacific Ocean, western Atlantic Ocean, and extreme western Europe and western Africa should be able to see it.
Feb. 19 — full moon and supermoon: Early Native American tribes also called this the Full Snow Moon because it usually snowed on their camps at this time of year, and because hunting is difficult, some tribes called it the Full Hunger Moon.
March 21 — full moon and supermoon: Early Native Americans also called this the Full Worm Moon, because this is the time of year when the ground begins to thaw and earthworms begin to emerge. It also is sometimes known as the Full Crow Moon, the Full Crust Moon, the Full Sap Moon and the Lenten Moon.
April 19 — full moon: Because pink wild ground phlox appears at this time, early Native American tribes called this the Full Pink Moon, but it’s also been called the Sprouting Grass Moon, the Growing Moon and the Egg Moon. Coastal tribes referred to it as the Full Fish Moon to mark the time when shad swam upstream to spawn.
April 22-23 — Lyrids meteor shower: This medium-strength meteor shower, which sometimes produces bright trails that can last for several seconds, runs from April 16-25 and peaks overnight April 22-23. The shower’s parent is comet C/1861 G1 Thatcher, discovered in 1861. A waning gibbous moon will block out the faintest meteors, but patient skywatchers should be rewarded. The best viewing time is after midnight. While the meteors radiate from the constellation Lyra, they can appear anywhere in the sky.
May 6-7 — Eta Aquarids meteor shower: This long-running shower from April 19-May 28 peaks overnight May 6-7, and usually produces from 10 to 30 meteors an hour just before dawn in the Northern Hemisphere. They are fast and can produce persistent trails, but don’t expect to see a lot of fireballs. Produced by dust particles left behind by the comet Halley, these meteors radiate from the constellation Aquarius, but can be seen from anywhere in the sky. Best viewing times are after midnight. The thin crescent moon sets in the early evening, making for ideal viewing conditions.
May 19 — full moon: The May full moon is also known as a blue moon. Early Native Americans called it the Full Flower Moon because that’s when flowers begin blooming. It also has been known as the Full Corn Planting Moon and the Milk Moon.
June 17 — full moon: Because strawberries begin ripening in June, early Native American tribes referred to this full moon as the Full Strawberry Moon, but it’s also known as the Full Rose Moon and the Full Honey Moon.
July 16 — full moon: Male deer begin growing their new antlers in July, leading early Native American tribes to dub this full moon the Full Buck Moon, but it’s also known as the Full Thunder Moon and the Full Hay Moon.
July 29-30 — Southern Delta Aquarids meteor shower: Running from July 21-Aug. 23, this average meteor shower peaks overnight July 29-30 and produces about 20 meteors an hour. Produced by debris left behind by comets Marsden and Kracht, it radiates from the constellation Aquarius, but meteors can appear anywhere in the sky. The waning crescent moon won’t present a big problem, and best viewing conditions are after midnight.
July 26-27 — Alpha Capricornids meteor shower: Running from July 11-Aug. 10, this shower rarely produces more than five meteors an hour, but is known for producing fireballs. The parent object of this minor shower, which peaks July 26-27, is comet 169P/NEAT.
Aug. 12-13 — Perseids meteor shower: The Perseids are the king of the summer meteor showers, running from July 17-Aug. 24 and peaking overnight Aug. 12-13. In normal years, they produce from 50 to 75 meteors per hour, but a nearly full moon could block out the faintest meteors. They’re so bright and numerous that a good show could still be in store. The Perseids, produced by the comet Swift-Tuttle, radiate from the constellation Perseus, but can be seen from anywhere in the sky. The best viewing times are after midnight.
Aug. 15 — full moon: Early Native American tribes called this the Full Sturgeon Moon because large sturgeons were easily caught in the Great Lakes and other major lakes, but it’s also known as the Green Corn Moon and the Grain Moon.
Sept. 14 — full moon: The full moon that occurs closest to the Autumnal Equinox, which occurs this year on Sept. 23, is known as the Harvest Moon. Early Native American tribes also called it the Full Corn Moon because that’s when harvesting of the crop typically began.
Oct. 8 — Draconids meteor shower: Running from Oct. 6-10 and peaking on the night of Oct. 8, the Draconids produce about 10 meteors an hour, though there have been years, notably 1933 and 1946, when thousands of meteors per hour zoom across the sky. Produced by dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, first discovered in 1900, the Draconids radiate from the constellation Draco. What makes this meteor shower unusual is that the best time to see them is in early evening. A first quarter moon sets shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies.
Oct. 13 — full moon: Known among early Native American tribes as the Full Hunters Moon because game is fattened and ready to hunt, the October full moon is also known as the Travel Moon. Though it’s not associated with a lunar eclipse, it is also sometimes called the Blood Moon.
Oct. 21-22 — Orionids meteor shower: Running from Oct. 2-Nov. 7 and peaking overnight Oct. 21-22, the Orionids produce about 20 meteors an hour in normal years, but in exceptional years, like 2006 and 2009, have rivaled the Perseids. Produced by dust grains left behind by the comet Halley, the meteors radiate from the constellation Orion, but can be seen from anywhere in the sky. A second quarter moon will block out the faintest meteors, but because the Orionids are bright, it could be a good show. Best viewing times are after midnight.
Nov. 5 — Taurids meteor shower: A long-lasting meteor shower with several minor peaks in October and November, the Taurids run from Sept. 7-Dec. 10, peaking on the night of Nov. 5. They rarely produce more than five or 10 meteors an hour, but are notable for colorful fireballs. The Taurids are unusual in that they consist of two separate streams — dust grains left behind by Asteroid 2004 TG10 and debris from Comet 2P Encke. They radiate from the constellation Taurus, but can be seen from anywhere in the sky.
Nov. 12 — full moon: Early Native Americans called this the Full Beaver Moon to mark the time to begin setting traps for beavers before swamps and rivers froze. It’s also sometimes called the Frosty Moon or the Hunter’s Moon.
Nov. 17-18 — Leonids meteor shower: Running from Nov. 6-30 and produced by dust grains left behind by comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, the Leonids peak overnight Nov. 17-18 with about 15 meteors per hour. However, in some years, a cyclonic peak about every 33 years can produce about 100 meteors an hour. The last time that happened was in 2001. The Leonids radiate from the constellation Leo, but can be seen from anywhere in the sky, with the best viewing times after midnight A second quarter moon will be problematic, blocking all but the brightest meteors.
Dec. 12 — full moon: Early Native American tribes named this the Full Cold Moon to mark the time of the year when winter air settles in and the nights become longer. It’s also known as the Full Long Nights Moon and the Moon Before Yule.
Dec. 13-14 — Geminids meteor shower: The Geminids, which run Dec. 7-17, are often regarded as the best meteor shower of the year because they produce up to 120 bright, intensely colored meteors at the peak on Dec. 13-14. Produced by debris left behind by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, the meteors radiate from the constellation Gemini, but can be seen anywhere in the sky. A nearly full moon will block the faintest, but because they are so bright and numerous, the Geminids should still produce a good show.
Dec. 21-22 — Ursids meteor shower: Running from Dec. 17-25, the Ursids produce about five to 10 meteors an hour at the peak overnight Dec. 21-22, though there have been some occasional outbursts when rates exceed 25 an hour. The parent object is comet 8P/Tuttle, and the meteors radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor. A waning crescent moon shouldn’t create much of a problem in 2019, and the best viewing times are after midnight.
Solstices And Equinoxes
March 20: Spring Equinox
June 21: Summer Solstice
Sept 23: Autumnal Equinox
Dec. 22: Winter Solstice