Get your telescope ready: 5 astronomy events to look for in 2018

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, AccuWeather meteorologist and staff writer
December 27, 2017, 8:27:34 AM EST

As the calendar turns to 2018, stargazers will have several big astronomy events to look forward to throughout the year.

Some events, including the passage of two comets in December, may require the help of a telescope or good pair of binoculars to view them.

From a lunar eclipse to spectacular meteor showers, here are the top five astronomical events of 2018:

1. Super Blue Moon Eclipse — Jan. 31

For the first time in over 35 years, a total lunar eclipse will fall on the same night as a Blue Moon.

January will feature two full moons, the second of which earning the name of a Blue Moon. Both full moons will also be considered super moons, appearing bigger and brighter than normal.

Although the full moon on Jan. 31 is called a Blue Moon, it will not appear blue. In some parts of the world, the moon will turn a rusty orange color due to the effects of a total lunar eclipse.

The moon is seen taking different orange tones during a lunar eclipse over Mexico City, Tuesday, Aug. 28, 2007. (AP Photo Marco Ugarte)

During a total lunar eclipse, the moon passes through Earth’s shadow and turns a red or orange color during the height of the eclipse. Sometimes, this is referred to as a Blood Moon.

This will be the first time that a total lunar eclipse has occurred during a blue moon since Dec. 30, 1982.

Only a partial lunar eclipse will be visible for the contiguous United States as the moon begins to set before dawn on Jan. 31.

Alaska and Hawaii will be the only states in the United States that will be able to view a total lunar eclipse.

Eastern Asia and Australia will also be able to view the total eclipse with the rest of Asia seeing a partial eclipse as the moon begins to rise.

2. Mars reaches opposition, comes closest to Earth since 2003 — July 27

Mars will appear big and bright in night sky this year, reaching its peak brightness at the end of July.

About once every two years Mars reaches opposition. This phenomenon occurs when Mars appears opposite of the sun and when it is closest to the Earth.

This year will be a particularly good year for viewing Mars as it will be the closest it has been to the Earth since 2003.

Mars will be easy to find when it reaches opposition on July 27 since it will appear just below the full moon. It will also appear red in color, setting itself apart from the other planets and the countless stars in the night sky.

Evening stargazers will also be able to see Saturn and Jupiter when Mars is at opposition.

3. Perseid meteor shower — Aug. 12-13

The best meteor shower of the summer will reach its peak during the second weekend of August, boasting up to 60 meteors per hour.

This shower is routinely one of the best and most popular meteor showers of the year and is well known for very bright and long-lasting meteors,” AccuWeather Astronomy blogger Dave Samuhel said.

This year will be a good year for the Perseids as the peak of the shower falls just after a new moon. The lack of moonlight will make it easier to see many of the dimmer meteors.

A Perseid meteor streaks across the sky during the Perseid meteor shower on Tuesday, Aug. 11, 2009 in Vinton, Calif. (AP Photo/Kevin Clifford)

4. Two comets to glide past Earth — December

Two comets will be making close approaches to Earth at the end of the year, giving stargazers new objects to look for with their telescopes.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be the brighter of the two comets and could become bright enough to spot with the unaided eye around mid-December. However, it will be best seen through the lens of a telescope or pair of binoculars.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be making its closes approach to Earth around Dec. 17 and will appear to the left of the the Pleiades star cluster.

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Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma will be another comet to look for in the December sky as it flies through the inner solar system for the first time in 38 years.

This comet will require a telescope to see as it will not be as bright as Comet 46P/Wirtanen.

Stargazers should point their telescopes between the Gemini and Ursa Major constellations to look for the comet when it reaches peak brightness during the first few days of December.

The next time that Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma will appear this bright won't be until the fall of 2056.

5. Geminid meteor shower — Dec. 13-14

One of the last astronomy events of the year will also be one of the best as the Geminid meteor shower reaches its peak the week before the start of winter.

Onlookers may see up to 120 meteors an hour on the night of Dec. 13 into the morning of Dec. 14 with some meteors glowing in different colors as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

The Geminid meteors comprise one of the few showers active during the evening, but in 2018, the best viewing conditions will be after midnight once the crescent moon sets.

During a meteor shower, the shooting stars originate from a point in the sky, known as the radiant point. However, meteors will be visible in all areas of the sky.

“My best advice if you’re trying to see meteors is to give yourself an hour, lay back and get as much of the sky in your view as possible and do not look at any source of light, including phones,” Samuhel said.

Questions or comments? Email Brian Lada at and be sure to follow him on Twitter!

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