This is the big one! These are the events that are a class above everything else when it comes to celestial events. Some of these events occur by chance – either you see them happen or you don’t, others are events that you need to be at the correct location at the correct time to witness it with your own eyes! Not only are these potential once in a lifetime events, but they are events that inspire and create new interest in science and astronomy!
A Moon Occultation is like an eclipse, but named differently to note the differences. Along the ecliptic, the Moon’s position constantly changes throughout the days due to its orbit around Earth, and it is always passing by a planet or two. Sometimes it gets close enough to see both objects through a telescope. And then of course there are times it actually occults (blocks) a planet for a short time!
During such events, you can watch the Moon slowly move in front of the planet in question, see the planet disappear behind the Moon’s disc, and then reappear up to an hour later!
In the grand scheme of time, they do happen rather frequently, but these are events that you have to be in the right location at the right time to witness, which makes them major celestial events that you should try to see at least once!
A Transit of Venus or Mercury
Admittedly this is one you need the proper equipment for, but to see the tiny dot of Mercury move across the face of the Sun is a rare treat. Transits of Mercury give you an excellent perspective on how big the Sun actually is compared to Mercury, a planet that’s a little bigger than our own Moon, and how far away Mercury actually is from Earth.
These events tend to happen at least 13-14 times per century, but it’s what location they are visible from that determines how rare they are. When Mercury transits across the Sun, if you are on the day side of Earth then you have a front row seat; if it’s night time or cloudy (thus the Sun isn’t visible), then you are out of luck. Viewers in North America will see the next transit on November 11, 2019, and then will have to wait until 2049 to see the next one. That puts these events in the major event bucket list category.
What about Venus? While they are easier to see, they are much more rare, occurring in pairs separated by 8 years over a century apart. The last pair was 2004 and 2012, so if you are reading this and missed out on it, you will not live to see the next one in 2117!
A Total Solar Eclipse
The sight of a total solar eclipse is one to behold! They put all other types of eclipses to shame! Seeing the sky suddenly get dark, and witnessing the ghostly corona appear around the silhouetted moon is one of the most eerie yet beautiful sights you will ever see! There is a reason why some people commit their lives to chasing total solar eclipses all over the world!
While a solar eclipse happens on average every 18 months, it’s where they are visible from that makes it so rare. To be able to witness the spectacle of a solar eclipse, you need to be IN the path of totality, where the moon’s shadow traces a path across the Earth. Trust me when I say this – if the distance is reasonable and you do not make the trip to be within the path of totality for a solar eclipse, you are missing out BIG TIME – and you may not get the chance again for a long time!
Because of them being rare near locations close to you, that puts these events in the major celestial event bucket list!
A Great Comet
Naked eye level comets are one thing, but they are not “Great Comets.” Great comets are so spectacularly bright or visible, that they get noticed by casual viewers who aren’t looking for them. Hyakutake in 1996 dazzled viewers with a long tail and close approach to Earth. Hale-Bopp in 1997 was visible in the sky with the naked eye for a long period of time, and you had to be living under a rock to miss it! These comets inspired me as a child.
That is why witnessing a great comet is considered a major celestial event and needs to be added to your bucket list! A great comet inspires people to look up and get interested in science and astronomy!
Unless you live in the southern hemisphere and saw the two great comets of 2007 and 2011, the skies have been silent for decades since! Great comets are rare events, and they are not easily predicted. Sure, there have been comets that are naked eye level – from a dark location of course – but they tend to appeal to comet enthusiasts only.
Dear Universe, Make Comets Great Again!
A Meteor Storm
Meteor showers are fun events, and catching a shooting star or two every minute is always nice…
But a meteor storm on the other hand – you see thousands per hour! The shower associated with storms – the Leonids – typically has a storm every 33 years, with the last storms being in 1999, 2001, and 2002. Seeing a countless meteors fall every second was one of the best memories I had as a teenager, and other showers after just aren’t the same (non-storm Leonid showers are very weak). Besides the more famous Leonids, the Draconids are also capable of producing meteor storms as well, with the last storm happening in 2012.
Meteor storms are on the major celestial event bucket list because unfortunately they are rare, do not last very long, and are not always easily predicted! They are events that you need to be in the right location during the predicted hours. However, if you hear that a storm is predicted, I say take your chances and go outside!
A Near Earth Supernova
Supernovae – exploding stars, are so bright that they outshine the entire galaxy for a period of time, thus they can’t be missed. The last observed supernova in our galaxy happened in 1054 – it was very bright, even visible during the day, and remained visible to the naked eye for almost two years! Afterwards, the remnants became what we know as the Crab Nebula.
Several prominent stars that are a few hundred light years from Earth are candidates for a near earth supernova. The event could happen tomorrow, a thousand years from now, or longer than that – we just don’t know! But when one happens, there’s no way anyone can miss it! The supernova will be bright enough to cast shadows on the ground, be visible during the day, and thus feel like a “second sun.”
A near earth supernova is on the major bucket list of celestial events because of how rare they are, and the odds of anyone alive today witnessing one are extremely slim. Out of all the entrees in this list, this is the one you may never cross off!