In the age of internet, television, and Lady Gaga, it’s easy to ignore the dazzling displays the sky gives us every night. In ancient times, however, human civilizations based their entire calendar, and thus their way of life, upon what they saw in the cosmos.
While humanity’s interest in astronomy has diminished over the centuries, the sky remains nonetheless spectacular. Few people have the time to go stargazing every night, but here are 5 celestial events so awe-inspiring, everyone must see them in their lifetime.
Next Occurrence: August 9-14, 2011
Every August, the night sky lights up with a dazzling display known as the Perseid meteor shower. Get to a dark location in the pre-dawn hours and you’ll be treated to a cavalcade of multi-colored shooting stars streaking across the sky. The meteors are as frequent as three per minute, and under the right conditions, you’ll feel like they’re flying right at you.
Next Occurrence: June 15, 2011 in Africa
Ever get bored with the predictably drab hue of the moon? Then make sure you’re keeping your eyes towards the heavens on the next total lunar eclipse. When the Earth’s orbit passes directly between the sun and the moon, the result is this impressive transformation from gray to a startling blood red. The change is so remarkable you’ll think Mars has traveled across space to pay a close visit to the Earth. Lunar eclipses happen somewhere in the world about once a year, but the next one visible from the United States won’t happen until April 15th, 2014.
Occurrence: Year round
More commonly known as the Northern Lights, Aurora is a fantastic light display that occurs at extreme Northern or Southern latitudes. The swirling colors are created when the interaction of solar winds react to the earth’s magnetic field, causing a flowing display of reds, blues, greens, and purples to dance across the night sky. The spectacle is so incredible that entire towns in Northern areas are geared towards providing tourists with a glimpse of Aurora, significantly supporting tourism and jobs in Alaska. Maybe modern civilization is more linked to the cosmos than we think!
Next Occurrence: 2061
While there are plenty of comets that can be viewed with the naked eye, Halley’s Comet is one that has enchanted humanity for multiple millennia. Halley’s Comet is one of the brightest recurring comets known to astronomers, and with a 75-year interval it’s the only comet that can potentially appear twice in one human lifetime. Mythical folklore is also associated with it, as human civilizations have linked Halley’s appearance with significant historical events. In 1066, for example, Halley’s Comet appeared in the sky around the time William the Conqueror invaded England. Mark Twain’s birth and death also famously coincided with two consecutive appearances of Halley’s Comet. If you caught the Star Trek: The Next Generation fourth season episode”Times Arrow,” in which Twain is thrust into the 24th century, then you’ll remember Twain’s amusing question: “You ever brought in Halley’s Comet?” Make sure you eat your fruits and vegetables, though, Halley’s next appearance won’t come until 2061!
Next Occurrence: November 13, 2012 in Australia
Witnessing a total solar eclipse is hands down the most amazing astronomical event to experience before you die. Make sure it’s a total eclipse though, as attending a partial solar eclipse would be like attending the Super Bowl the day before the big game. When a total eclipse happens, the entire sky turns black in the middle of the day, the stars suddenly become visible to the naked eye, and the temperature instantly drops about 10-15 degrees. The rapid change in climate creates a vacuum in the immediate atmosphere, causing the winds to pick up dramatically in the vicinity of the eclipse. If there ever was a time when you would think the world was ending, this would be it. Make sure you experience this awesome phenomenon!
Welles writes on behalf of AlaskaTourJobs.com, a leading provider of summer jobs in Alaska, which is a perfect place to go stargazing!