Did you hear about yesterday’s total solar eclipse too late to consider a trip down to South America to see it? Such a trip takes advance planning and huge expense, of course, but there’s no way you’ll ever see an eclipse or a once-in-a-lifetime planetary line-up unless someone tells you when and where they will happen.
Enjoying the best sights and sounds of our planet and our solar system during our short lives requires some serious planning.
Those who love nature and travel should always know when the next great natural events are. Otherwise, one day, you’re going to get on a plane home and overhear someone talking about an upcoming once-in-a-lifetime natural event in the place you’ve just left.
So here are eight incredible sky events – a “secret calendar” of sorts – to get you started, with details of when and where they’re next going to be observable. Some are annual, some are periodic, some are once-in-a-lifetime, and all of them are drop-dead unmissable … clear skies allowing.
Transit of Mercury
Where: South America, Atlantic Ocean or West Africa
Why: Watch the solar system’s smallest planet cross in front of the Sun
When: November 11, 2019
Planetary transits are far rarer than eclipses. Only transits of the inner planets Mercury and Venus are observable from Earth. The next Transit of Venus won’t occur until December 10, 2117, but there are 13 Transits of Mercury each century, always in May or November. The last Transit of Mercury until 2032 occurs on 11 November 2019, but to see this one you’ll do best to travel to the Atacama Desert in northern Chile, West Africa, or the Canary Islands for a good view and a good chance of clear skies. It will take about five and a half hours for Mercury to cross the solar disk from east to west, but you’ll need a telescope with solar filters to safely see it.
The Longest Eclipse
Where: Luxor, Egypt & Florida, USA
Why: This era’s greatest total solar eclipse family
When: August 2, 2027 (Egypt) & August 12, 2045, 2045 (USA)
The next total solar eclipse in on December 14, 2020 in Chile and Argentina, and there’s also one on April 8, 2024 in North America, but neither of them are going to be the “best” in your lifetime. Every 18 years, 11 days and 8 hours there’s a super-long total solar eclipse in the “Solar Saros 136” family. We’re talking just over six minutes of totality, roughly three times longer than experienced during August 21, 2017’s “Great American Eclipse.” In 2027, get yourself to Luxor in Egypt. Then it’s to Florida in 2045. If you’re still alive by 2063, get to Japan.
A Great Solstice Appulse
Where: Anywhere on Earth
Why: Saturn and Jupiter will get just 0°06 apart
When: December 21, 2020 – “Great Conjunction” of Saturn and Jupiter
Two planets “kissing”, anyone? On the exact date of 2020’s solstice, Saturn and Jupiter will appear incredibly close together just after sunset. Astronomer’s call this an “appulse” (the shortest apparent distance between one celestial object and another) or a “Great Conjunction.” This one comes just a week after the December 14, 2020 total solar eclipse and the Geminids meteor shower, the best of the year, that can bring 120 shooting stars per hour in a dark sky.
Where: Yosemite National Park, California
Why: See the Horsetail Falls “catch fire”
When: third week of February (every year)
If you go at exactly the right time you can watch a waterfall glow yellow, orange and red. A favorite for photographers, Horsetail Falls on the eastern side of El Capitan in Yosemite National Park glows momentarily when the Sun sets at exactly the right point to shine its “golden hour” light through the Yosemite Valley.
A Grand Conjunction
Where: Anywhere on Earth
Why: See all naked eye classical planets line-up
When: September 8, 2040
Not as tightly conjoined for 4,000 years, here’s your only chance to see Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (and as a bonus, the crescent Moon) all in the night sky simultaneously. They will all be visible after sunset within the same nine degrees of sky.
Where: Manhattan, New York City
Why: watch the sun set between skyscrapers
When: July 12, at 8:20 p.m. & July 13, at 8:21 p.m. (Eastern time).
It’s pretty famous already, but few outside New York City know much about this phenomenon that sees the ever-moving sunset point neatly positioned between skyscrapers. That’s thanks to the grid pattern of Manhattan, which is lined-up to the cardinal points. It happens for two days in May and two days in July, every year.
A planet hides a star
Where: From East Asia and western USA
Why: The planet Venus will eclipse bright star Regulus
When: October 1, 2044
An “occultation” is when a celestial object passes in front of a star (occults a star), temporarily blocking its light. That barely happens with planets and stars as seen from Earth as a naked eye event, so this one’s pretty rare … one for collectors.
A five-star ‘bore’
Where: River Severn, UK
Why: Watch a huge “bore” wave surge backward up a river
When: 20:28-22:03 on September 28 & 21:10-22:45 on September 29, 2019
A tidal bore is when a wave travels up a river in the “wrong” direction, against the current. One of the UK’s few truly spectacular natural phenomena, a big “Severn Bore” can occasionally be seen in the River Severn, where the tidal range is the 2nd highest in the world. The spectacle of a massive five-star wave … and the incredible sound it makes … is best-experienced south-east from Gloucester along the River Severn, and it’s a truly weird sight, but requires specific timing. It’s caused by the Moon being close to Earth. It’s easily more terrifying to hear and see at night, when the roar is spine-chilling and the sudden rising of the water levels almost panic-inducing, which makes 2019’s two opportunities unmissable.
Disclaimer: I am the editor of WhenIsTheNextEclipse.com