From a Total Solar Eclipse to 11 meteor showers: The stunning astronomical events set to


2024 may be the year that wealthy ‘space tourists’ pay billions of dollars to jet into orbit aboard luxury space pods. 

But for those who can’t afford such a privilege, remember we’re lucky to be standing on one of the best viewing platforms in the solar system – Planet Earth. 

It’s set to be a very special year thanks to some very amazing skygazing events that will grace our skies. 

Among them are a close approach of Saturn, a total solar eclipse, several meteor showers and even the opportunity to view one of the brightest known comets. 

Here’s all you need to know about the astronomical opportunities of 2024 – including how to see them. 

There's no shortage of stunning spectacles for skygazers to enjoy in 2024, from stunning meteor showers to the total solar eclipse

There’s no shortage of stunning spectacles for skygazers to enjoy in 2024, from stunning meteor showers to the total solar eclipse

Meteor showers in 2024 

  • Quadrantids (January 3-4)
  • Lyrids (April 22-23)
  • Eta Aquariids (May 6) 
  • Alpha Capricornids (July 30)
  • Delta Aquariids (July 30) 
  • Perseids (August 12-13)
  • Draconids (October 8-9)
  • Orionids (October 21-22) 
  • Taurids (November 12-13)
  • Leonids (November 18)
  • Geminids (December 14-15)
  • Ursids (December 23)

(Note: All dates refer to peaks, as viewed from the Northern Hemisphere) 

Source: Royal Museums Greenwich  

METEOR SHOWERS 

There’s a dozen meteor showers in 2024, including the Quadrantids which lit up the night’s skies earlier in the week

A meteor shower happens when Earth passes through the path of a comet – icy, rocky bodies left over from the formation of the solar system

When this happens, the bits of comet debris, most no larger than a grain of sand, create streaks of light in the night sky as they burn up in Earth’s atmosphere.

These streaks are known as shooting stars, even though they are not stars at all. 

The next meteor shower of the year, the Lyrids, peaks between April 22-23 with up to 18 shooting stars flying overhead every hour. 

A faster and more prolific shower, the Eta Aquariids, will send up to 50 shooting stars low in the sky on May 6. 

But the biggest meteor shower of the year is the Geminids, which will happen on December 14-15 and send up to 150 bright shooting stars whizzing through the sky. 

Aside from having the highest rate of shooting stars per hour, the Geminids are special because the meteors are multi-coloured – mainly white, some yellow and a few green, red and blue. 

View of the Geminid meteor shower in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, on December 14, 2023. The Geminids is always the biggest meteor shower of the year

View of the Geminid meteor shower in Ratnapura, Sri Lanka, on December 14, 2023. The Geminids is always the biggest meteor shower of the year

Solar eclipse: Types 

Total: Moon completely blocks out the sun, casting a shadow on Earth 

Annular: Moon doesn’t completely cover the sun, resulting in a halo of sunlight known as a ‘ring of fire’ visible around the silhouette of the moon

Partial: Sun is only partially covered by the moon, making it look like the sun has had a ‘bite’ taken out of it

Hybrid: Combination of a total and an annular solar eclipse

You don’t need a telescope to see meteor showers, but it is best to look out for them in a dark sky, free of moonlight and artificial lights with a wide an unobstructed view of the sky. 

SOLAR ECLIPSES

Skygazing fans from around the world will be flocking to North America this springtime to get a glimpse of what is the probably biggest astronomical event of 2024. 

The total solar eclipse – when the moon completely blocks the face of the sun – is taking place on April 8. 

It will mark the first total solar eclipse visible anywhere in the world since December 2021, and the first seen from the US since August 2017

Experts have drawn the path that the total solar eclipse will be viewable from in the early afternoon of April 8.  

It will sweep across the continent, starting in Mexico and moving through Texas where it will travel up to New England and finish in Canada

Whatever the location, it should be visible for about four minutes. 

Total solar eclipse is seen near Hopkinsville, Kentucky on August 21, 2017. On April 8, 2024, the moon will cast its shadow across a stretch of the US, Mexico and Canada, plunging millions of people into midday darkness

Total solar eclipse is seen near Hopkinsville, Kentucky on August 21, 2017. On April 8, 2024, the moon will cast its shadow across a stretch of the US, Mexico and Canada, plunging millions of people into midday darkness

The April 8 total eclipse will sweep across the continent, starting in Mexico and moving eastwards through Texas where it will travel up to New England and finish in eastern Canada

The April 8 total eclipse will sweep across the continent, starting in Mexico and moving eastwards through Texas where it will travel up to New England and finish in eastern Canada

SE2024Apr08T.gif

When will the total solar eclipse occur?

After passing through Mexico, the first state to see the total solar eclipse on April 8 will be: 

Texas (starting at 13:27 CDT)

It will then pass to the following states:

  • Oklahoma (13:43 CDT)
  • Arkansas (13:45 CDT) 
  • Missouri (13:53 CDT) 
  • Tennessee (13:58 CDT) 
  • Kentucky (13:58 CDT) 
  • Illinois (13:58 CDT) 
  • Indiana (14:01 CDT) 
  • Ohio (15:08 EDT) 
  • Michigan (15:12 EDT) 
  • Pennsylvania (15:15 EDT) 
  • New York (15:16 EDT) 
  • Vermont (15:25 EDT)
  • New Hampshire (15:28 EDT)
  • Maine (15:28 EDT) 

It will finish in eastern Canada. Other parts of the US will just see a partial eclipse – because they are outside the ‘path of totality’  

Source: timeanddate.com 

Shaded area marks the moon’s shadow moving over the Earth on April 8; people in this area will only see a partial eclipse unless they’re in the path traversed by the black dot right in the centre – in this case they’ll see a total solar eclipse 

Like any eclipse, it’s important not to look directly at the sun with the naked eye while the event is happening – not even through sunglasses, binoculars or a telescope. 

A simple pinhole projector, solar eclipse viewing glasses, which can be purchased online, or special solar filters are much safer. 

Unfortunately the total solar eclipse won’t be viewable outside the path, so people in the UK, Europe or elsewhere won’t be able to see it. 

However, it will be seen as a partial eclipse in parts of Britain just before sunset. 

With a partial eclipse, the sun is only partially covered by the moon, making it look like the sun has had a ‘bite’ taken out of it.  

Unfortunately, the next total solar eclipse isn’t visible in the UK for another 67 years.

Occurring on September 23, 2090, it will be the first total solar eclipse visible from Britain since August 11, 1999, and the first visible from Ireland since May 22, 1724. 

It’s well known that a solar eclipse happens when the moon passes between the sun and our planet, completely blocking our view of the sun. 

Meanwhile, an ‘annular’ solar eclipse is where the moon appears slightly smaller than the sun, leaving a bright ‘ring of fire’ around the moon’s silhouette. 

On October 2, an annular solar eclipse will be visible from the southern tips of Argentina and Chile, as well as Easter Island in the southeastern Pacific Ocean.

Other parts of South America including Brazil, Ecuador, Paraguay and Peru as well as Hawaii and New Zealand should see a partial solar eclipse that day. 

The moon passes between Earth and the sun during an annular 'ring of fire' eclipse seen from Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah on October 14, 2023

The moon passes between Earth and the sun during an annular ‘ring of fire’ eclipse seen from Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah on October 14, 2023

Tips for viewing a supermoon 

A supermoon occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest to Earth at the same time the moon is full.  

To get the best view, get up high! The further up you are, the better your chance of a clear sky to see the stars, plus you’ll be able to see low down to the horizon to watch the moon rise. 

Also try to be situated in a region that’s far away from light pollution that can dim the spectacle – in other words, away from towns and cities. 

For those stargazing from the comfort of their homes, turning off the lights indoors can improve the visibility of the night sky. 

SOURCE: Parkdean Resorts 

TWO SUPERMOONS 

There’s usually three or four supermoons in a calendar year, but in 2024 there’ll only be two so you won’t want to miss them. 

What’s more, the supermoons are visible from wherever you are on the planet.  

A supermoon is the full moon during the closest point in its orbit around Earth – making it appear bigger and brighter than normal. 

On a clear night, a supermoon provides a spectacular spectacle, as if our lunar neighbour is growing. 

With a decent camera it’ll make for some stunning Instagram-worthy snaps.  

The first supermoon of the year will happen on September 18 when the moon will be 222,131 miles away from Earth.

This is quite a bit lower than the average distance between Earth and the moon of 238,855 miles.  

The second supermoon of the year, on October 17, will be even closer – 222,055 miles away – and therefore should be an even greater spectacle. 

A supermoon is the opposite of a micromoon – the full moon when it’s furthest away from Earth in its orbit. 

According to moonphasetoday.com, there will be three micromoons in 2024 – on January 25, February 25 and March 25.

While micromoons don’t have as much visual impact as supermoons, they are a fascinating reminder of the moon’s elliptical orbit around Earth. 

Pictured, the fourth and final supermoon of 2023 as seen from Whitby Piers on the North Yorkshire Coast, September 29, 2023

Pictured, the fourth and final supermoon of 2023 as seen from Whitby Piers on the North Yorkshire Coast, September 29, 2023

A supermoon occurs when a full moon nearly coincides with perigee - the point in the orbit of the moon at which it is nearest to the Earth

A supermoon occurs when a full moon nearly coincides with perigee – the point in the orbit of the moon at which it is nearest to the Earth

Saturn – key facts  

Distance from the sun: 886 million miles

Orbital period: 29 years

Diameter: 72,400 miles

Mass: 5.683 × 10^26 kg (95.16 M⊕)

Length of day: 0d 10h 42m

Number of moons: 146 (as of January 2024)

SATURN IN OPPOSITION  

On September 8 this year, Saturn will be in opposition – and therefore it will be the best time to see it in the night’s sky. 

When Saturn in opposition, it means Earth is between the sun and Saturn – and that the two planets are at their closest to each other. 

It can make for a great view of the famous ringed planet, even with the naked eye but particularly with a telescope. 

Saturn will look like a yellowish star, but it will be distinguishable from the stars because it will emit a steady light rather than twinkling.

‘It is also brighter than the vast majority of stars in the sky so will stick out for that reason,’ said Dr Robert Massey at the Royal Astronomical Society.

With professional camera equipment, astrophotographers have been able to catch amazingly clear shots of the planet when in opposition

Some of these are so detailed they look like digital renders rather than photos. 

When Saturn in opposition, it just means Earth is between the sun and Saturn - and that the two planets are at their closest to each other

When Saturn in opposition, it just means Earth is between the sun and Saturn – and that the two planets are at their closest to each other

From the roof of a multi-storey car park in LA, photographer Andrew McCarthy used two cameras to take more than 100,000 images of Saturn while in opposition, before layering them together to create this spectacular shot

From the roof of a multi-storey car park in LA, photographer Andrew McCarthy used two cameras to take more than 100,000 images of Saturn while in opposition, before layering them together to create this spectacular shot

Saturn pictured in the night sky above New York City on December 21, 2020 - you can even see its famous rings

Saturn pictured in the night sky above New York City on December 21, 2020 – you can even see its famous rings 

COMET PONS-BROOKS 

Stargazers have the opportunity to see a comet, known as Pons-Brooks, whizzing through the sky as it reaches its closest point in its orbit to Earth this year. 

The comet, first discovered in 1812, has been compared with the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars because of its pair of ‘horns’ seen in images. 

Pons-Brooks is set to come as close as 72.5 million miles (116.8 million km) to the sun on April 21. 

Following that, a close approach with Earth of 144 million miles (232 million km) will happen on June 2.

However, if you’re in the northern hemisphere, the best time to see it will be sooner, according to Jessica Lee, an astronomer at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. 

Although it’s difficult to predict what a comet looks like and how bright it will become, the public should look out for what looks like ‘an irregularly shaped dirty snowball’. 

‘It’s predicted that this comet will reach maximum brightness for viewers in the northern hemisphere in late March,’ Lee told MailOnline. 

‘In late March the comet will be in the constellation of Aries, which is in the western sky just after sunset. 

‘Ideally you should go somewhere with a clear view of the horizon in the west, and pick a night with clear skies. 

Some have speculated that the horseshoe-like shape also resembles the Millennium Falcon spaceship in Star Wars

Some have speculated that the horseshoe-like shape also resembles the Millennium Falcon spaceship in Star Wars 

According to an astronomer, the comet erupted on October 31 - the second time in the space of a calendar month

According to an astronomer, the comet erupted on October 31 – the second time in the space of a calendar month 

‘Like all faint objects it will be easier to see if you let your eyes adjust to the dark first, so avoid looking at bright objects (like your phone screen) for at least 15 minutes. 

‘If it’s too faint to see with your eyes, binoculars or telescopes will be able to make it out.’ 

Although the the comet will continue to approach the sun after March, it will get too close to the sun to be visible to Earthlings. 

However, during the solar eclipse in the US on April 8, it might be visible during the day whilst the moon is blocking light from the sun, Lee said. 

From June onwards, it will only be visible to observers in the southern hemisphere and it will grow progressively fainter as it’s gravitationally flung back to the outer solar system 

Its next close approach is not until 2095 – so for most of us it really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to view. 



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