We are happy that the skies often have an incentive for you to go outside and look up. It’s important to know which events are worth making efforts for, and which events you don’t need to lose sleep over… literally.
Here is How I Rank Celestial Events:
These are events that many seasoned observers acknowledge, but don’t stress too much if they miss it. Most of the time, we end up having to correct the misconceptions due to many sources over hyping the event, making the event seem like it’s more impressive than it actually is.
- Oppositions – These happen quite often with each planet with a superior orbit. Every year, Earth has a close approach opposition with those respective planets. It’s merely a time when it’s best to check them out.
- “Super Moons” – A full moon that’s slightly closer – except you won’t be able to tell with your naked eye!
- “Blue Moons” – The second full moon in a month… while there’s usually one per year, again, it’s just another full moon!
- “Black Moons” – The second new moon in a month – won’t see it at all in the sky!
- Penumbral Lunar Eclipses – Where the Moon crosses through Earth’s outer shadow (penumbra), but doesn’t quite touch the inner shadow (umbra) which causes the darkening and color changing we’re all familiar with. To the naked eye, you may not even notice they’re happening!
- Weak to Average Meteor Showers – Meteor showers that see one meteor every few minutes IF there is no moon and you’re away from cities.
- Meteor Showers Washed Out By Moon – go back to the previous bullet point, only this time add the moon. Even reliable strong showers will be severely weakened due to the Moon.
- Conjunctions between two objects – When they’re more than a couple degrees apart, it may look cool but wouldn’t it be better if the conjunction appeared even closer?
Impressive Celestial Events
Compared to “Notable,” “Impressive” Events are those more worth making the effort to see, whether it’s in the middle of the night, at a dark location away from cities, or both!
- “Historic Close Approaches” – When the distance between Earth and the respective planet is smaller than usual. Especially when it comes to Mars, there is a huge difference in how Mars appears from 40 million miles away versus its average of 140 million.
- Close Conjunctions Between Two Objects – When two objects appear within a couple degrees apart, close enough to see both of them through binoculars or telescope at low power!
- Multiple Object Conjunction – If you will see more than two objects forming a close shape or a tight line in the same patch of the sky.
- Strong Meteor Showers – Meteor showers with ZHR’s of 60-150 per hour, such as reliable Perseids and Geminids that have NO MOON INTERFERENCE! These are worth the trip out to a dark location.
- Telescope Level Comets – These are comets that won’t quite be bright enough to be visible to the naked eye, but are still worth checking out with a good pair of binoculars or a telescope. They’re also fun long exposure targets for astrophotography, which ultimately will make them the most observable.
These are events that happen at least every few years, but may or may not be visible from your location.
- Total Lunar Eclipses – They happen every year or two, and as long as you’re on the night side of Earth when it happens, then you can see it! These are good events to plan parties around no matter where you are – as long as you can see it!
- Partial Solar Eclipses – If you’re on the day side of Earth and within the moon’s outer shadow, then you can see a partial eclipse. Sometimes this will be the best you can get given the circumstances of the path of the moon’s shadow.
- Outburst Meteor Showers – Whenever Earth passes through a more dense cloud of debris, you can get double or even triple your usual rate of meteor showers. Potentially seeing hundreds per hour during peak times is well worth the trip to far away locations!
- Rare Close Conjunctions – When two or more objects appear within one degree apart from each other – close enough to be seen through a telescope at medium magnification.
- Naked Eye Level Comets – As the title suggests, these are comets that are without a doubt bright enough to see with the naked eye, even from moderately light polluted skies if you know where to look. With that said, even as far back as the early 20th century, people often miss out on these comets because of light pollution, and don’t have the sense to go out to a dark enough location to see them, where they are obvious!
Once In a Life Time “Don’t Miss!” Events!
As the title suggests, these are events that scream, “DON’T MISS THE CHANCE!” They do not happen very often, especially over your location, and if you miss them, you may not get another chance in your lifetime! These events can take a lot of time and effort to see, but they are well worth it!
- Total Solar Eclipses – There’s a reason why people travel from all over the world to see these sights, and why “Eclipse Chasing” is a thing!
- Annular Solar Eclipses – While not as impressive as total, it’s still cool to travel and see the Sun and Moon align into a “ring of fire.”
- Great Comets – They are so bright that they are noticed by casual observers who aren’t looking for them.
- SUPER Close Conjunctions – If the two objects appear less than half a degree (the width of a full moon) apart. You can view both objects at high magnification through a telescope!
- Moon Eclipses A Planet – Also known as Occultation – you can watch a planet go behind the Moon, and then reappear on the other side. Must be in the right place at the right time to see it!
- Meteor Storms – When the ZHR rate reaches over a thousand per hour. These events are super rare, don’t last very long, and are unpredictable. There are two showers associated with storms, the Leonids and Draconids, and if one wants to see them, you need to keep a close watch on when a storm is predicted – otherwise the two respective showers are rather weak.
- Transits of Mercury and Venus – There’s usually 13-14 Mercury Transits per century (one every seven years on average), but you have to be on the day side of Earth when it happens, and you need a telescope with a solar filter to safely view. You could go decades without seeing one. Transits of Venus are MUCH MORE RARE, two transits separated by 8 years over a century apart, with the last one being in 2012.
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2 thoughts on “How Celestial Events Are Ranked”
I like your event classification system, what a good idea. I hope it catches on!
If I were to create my my own such list, “super Moon”, “blue Moon”, “black Moon” (and all the other so called “Moons” that non-astronomers dreamed up) would be placed in a fifth category called “NON-EVENT”, subtext: “don’t even waste your time thinking about it”.
Best regards from Australia, 🙃
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You’re right, those moons with fancy names are pretty much “NON-EVENTS.’ Appreciate the input, cheers from California!