The Top 5 Astronomical Events to Witness Before You Die

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.

5. Perseid Meteor Shower

Perseid_meteor_shower

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.

4. Total Lunar Eclipse

lunar-eclipse-21-dec

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.

3. Aurora

northern lights

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!

2. Halley’s Comet

comet

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!

StarTrek-Mark-Twain

1. Total Solar Eclipse

total_solar_eclipse

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!

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Posted by on January 17, 2011. Filed under Science. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

18 Responses to The Top 5 Astronomical Events to Witness Before You Die

  1. Missed Haley’s Comet last time, you never know, I might still be around in 2061 lol

  2. I’d also love to see one of the semi-annual meteor explosions that produces an explosion about equivalent to the bomb dropped on Hiroshima (only without the radiation problems). These almost always occur in the upper atmosphere obviously, so lack any destruction of anything, and no one ever knows where or when they will happen (the meteor’s that cause them are only about 5-10 meters large). I believe there have only been a few recorded in the last decade though. Seeing one of those at night would be amazing. :-)

  3. My birthday is the same day as the solar eclipse in 2012.

  4. Jeez, 2061? I’d be 84. (birthday mid-Feb.)

    In my defense, my mother’s father (my last surviving grandparent) is 91.

  5. I did get to see the total lunar eclipse that just happened on Dec. 22nd, 2010. I even recorded it, I also viewed it with low-power binoculars. It was amazing to watch with the binoculars because when you get the focus on the moon, you can see it clear as day, speeding through space, and an incredible wash of thousands of ‘mini-stars’ you wouldn’t otherwise be able to see, all ‘washing’ to the right, as the moon speeds through space at several thousand miles per hour. It was really incredible.

    While my videos don’t have the clarity I had with the binoculars and you can’t see the surface features on the moon (the moon was just a bright ball of light in an otherwise dark background) you can see thousands of stars washing by from the lower left to the upper right.

    it was really breathtaking to watch through the binoculars though because there was a constant, gentle breeze, and while watching the moon through the binoculars it really added to the effect of seeing the moon hurtle through space.

  6. I have a problem with that line at the end of the articles: —

    “Welles writes on behalf of AlaskaTourJobs.com, a leading provider of summer jobs in Alaska, which is a perfect place to go stargazing!”

    Um…..I’ve been to Alaska in the summer, it’s a lousy place for stargazing, doesn’t even get dark, just a kind of twilight. In winter it’s too damn cold.

  7. I’m thinking the supernova from Betelgeuse will bump the total solar eclipse from the first spot. I mean, its going to be awesome to see something else in the sky large enough to be considered a “second sun”.

    Although I’ve recently found out that it probably won’t happen by the end of 2011 which bummed me out.

  8. Nobody has forgotten to look at the sky, were all being hammered by chemicals to make us more apathetic while our night sky dissapears over a thick blanket of barium and other metals so we all wont know whats in store for us

  9. Halley’s Comet is not “the only comet that can potentially appear twice in one human lifetime”. There are over 270 comets know as Jupiter types which have periods less than 20 years, and plenty of others with periods less than Halley’s Comet.

  10. “Welles writes on behalf of AlaskaTourJobs.com, a leading provider of summer jobs in Alaska, which is a perfect place to go stargazing!”

    Having lived in AK for many years, I can officially say that THERE ARE NO STARS IN THE SUMMER. So I’d guess that star gazing in Alaska would need to be accompanied by some seriously thermal insulated winter gear…we saw the best light shows and auroras when it was -20 to -70…so bundle up and don’t count on seeing any stars much at all between May and September!

  11. The problem I see with this article is that the picture of Comet Halley above is actually a picture of Comet Hale Bopp instead. Comet Halley, while famous, is not that exciting to look at. @ Graham, Betelgeuse is expected to go supernova yes however, it is due some time in the next 100,000 years. As for it not happening in 2011, it is highly unlikely it will even occur before your great great grandchildren’s ghosts have settled down and raised a family.

  12. Paul Montgomery

    I have gotten see two fireballs explode in the sky now. Both were amazing, but the first one was the best. I was driving down the interstate in Virginia at around 1 am when it came by and exploded in front of me. The flash was like a giant camera flash bright enough so that I could see the shadows of mountain peaks against another ridge of mountains. There were few other cars on the road and they did nothing to indicate they saw the fireball come by. Nothing was in the news the next day and I wonder if it was ever documented.

    The second and smaller fireball was also in the early morning hours on a interstate in Tenn. It was a smaller version of the first one, but my wife and daughter also got to see that one. I don’t know if I have just been lucky or if someone’s odds of seeing more than one is high should they log a lot of nighttime driving hours. Now I almost expect to see another, but know that is unlikely. BTW, I am 52 now, so still have many years left to catch another one. One observation, these fireballs are traveling much slower than normal shooting stars you see at night. Both looked to be traveling a little faster than the speed of a satellite overhead and had lots of pieces coming off of them like the sparkles on fireworks.

  13. … I live a place where we have Northern Lights throughout the whole winter – at least once a week. The city is nicknamed “Nordlysbyen”, which literally means “NorthernLightTown”. I honestly didn’t know that the Northern Light is that popular. There’s lots of stories about the Northern Light that I think comes from the old beliefs of the Sami people. Grown-ups are likely to tell you to not whistle when you can see the Northern Lights, because the light is supposed to kidnap children if you do.

    … And of course we try to get tourists to come, based on the desire to see the Northern Lights. It’s not like we have any other interesting things here (except for fishing salmon in the river and watching the midnight sun in the summer).

  14. Beautiful red moon. The red moon was often used as an omen for harvest or impending death, I wonder if it’s still held in firm belief in some parts of Africa. Either way, hoping I can get there in June.

  15. I got to see 2 explosions in the sky….Challenger and Columbia,

  16. “Nobody has forgotten to look at the sky, were all being hammered by chemicals to make us more apathetic while our night sky dissapears over a thick blanket of barium and other metals so we all wont know whats in store for us”

    I hear tin foil hats block the chemicals though. Have you tried that?

  17. I would definitely want to witness the Halley’s Comet. The Aurora looks so beautiful.

  18. i would love to know if anybody witnessed halley’s comet during the lunar eclipse . i did and it was BEYOND GREAT. south island new zealand.