It’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s….a meteor shower? Whether you’re an amateur astronomer or just like to stargaze (with snacks, of course), we’ve got the scoop on what we’ll see across The Magic City sky this year, including super moons, meteor showers and more.
According to an article from WHNT, Alabama is in for a nice year of stargazing. Director of Samford’s Christenberry Planetarium, Dr. Don Olive, Ph.D, weighs in on what to expect.
Meteor showers over Birmingham
If you don’t know much about Astronomy, you might think that meteor showers are something out of the movies. Catastrophic events that bring giant rocks catapulting toward Earth at high speeds.
Well, not to be anticlimactic, but apparently these happen pretty often—roughly once a month, in fact.
“[Meteor showers occur] every time the Earth passes through the remnants of the tail of a comet. So, comets come through from time to time, and then as they go, the sun melts (sublimates) the surface and leaves behind ice particles or dust particles. Then, when the Earth passes through that area in later years, those particles burn up as they enter the atmosphere.”—Dr. Don Olive, Director, Samford’s Christenberry Planetarium
How to spot a meteor shower
Don’t break out your telescope just yet. A tip from Dr. Olive: a telescope would actually get in your way for spotting a meteor shower as they’re best seen with the naked eye. According to The Farmer’s Almanac, there are 12 headed our way in 2022. They include:
|Eta Aquarid||May 4–5|
|Delta Aquarid||July 28–29|
|Northern Taurid||Nov. 11–12|
Dr. Olive says that the best plan of attack is to choose a night within the date range that is quite dark—a full moon is your enemy if you’re on meteor shower watch. Also, he let us in on an important hint: the shower names often allude to their location in the sky. Perseid, for example, could be found near Perseus constellation.
Don’t know the constellation locations? There’s an app for that. Dr. Olive shares that in addition to print and online resources, many apps have been developed for stargazing and tracking to help guide the way.
Eclipses, super moons and more
It’s not just meteor showers in the forecast. We can also expect to see eclipses and moons (of both the full and super variety) throughout the year. Dr. Olive says that a good one to watch for is the lunar eclipse on May 15.
So, what is a lunar eclipse exactly? Dr. Olive has you covered.
“Lunar eclipses only occur during full moons. So, during a full moon, the moon will be illuminated. Then, over the course of several hours, shadow will slowly creep over the moon. As the shadow completely eclipses the moon, you’ll begin to see the red tinge. The red tinge occurs as sunlight passes by Earth, and the light is bent as it goes through the atmosphere around the edges of the Earth. And the red light is bent more than blue light, which is the same reason you get sunsets that are red. Basically, you’re seeing an aggregate of all of the sunsets around the world reflected off of the moon. That’s what causes the ‘blood’ or red coloring.”—Dr. Don Olive, Director, Samford’s Christenberry Planetarium
Want to dive deeper?
Have I piqued your interest? Got a budding astronomer on your hands? Dr. Olive has a few tips on where to learn more about the stars locally.
- Samford’s Christenberry Planetarium hosts educational shows and programs that are out of this world. Given COVID, Planetarium visits are on pause for the moment. Keep an eye on their website for updates.
- The Birmingham Astronomical Society of Alabama hosts meetings, “star parties” and more. Visit their website for membership and event details.
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