19 amazing things you don't want to miss in the night sky in 2016.

Eclipses and meteors and supermoons, oh my!

If you're a night owl who loves stargazing, 2016 is going to be a busy year for you. This year is packed full of remarkable sights — including three supermoons, two eclipses, and dozens of meteor showers. Some of them you'll need a telescope or binoculars to see, but many are visible with your naked eye alone.

Here are the things we'll be watching for in the night sky through the rest of 2016:


1. In March, Jupiter will come closer to Earth than it ever will in the next two years.

Image by NASA, ESA, and A. Simon/Wikimedia Commons.

On March 8, Jupiter reaches opposition (astronomy-speak for "the time when its orbit around the sun brings it closest to Earth"). You’ll be able to see the planet through binoculars or a telescope — if you have the latter you might be able to see its moons or the Great Red Spot).

Then on March 9, skywatchers in parts of Sumatra and Indonesia can grab their pinhole projectors to watch 2016's only total solar eclipse. If you're not able to grab a last-minute ticket to Palembang — don't worry. The next total solar eclipse on Aug. 21, 2017 will be visible across a huge part of the United States.

2. Break out your macro lenses to photograph April's "minimoon."

Image by NASA Goddard Space Flight Centre/Flickr.

There are three "supermoons" in 2016, but only one "minimoon." On April 21, the moon will be at "apogee," its furthest point from Earth. That's about 10,000 more miles away than normal and 30,000 more miles away than during a "supermoon."

On April 9, skywatchers with powerful telescopes will be able to see the planet Uranus as it reaches "conjunction" and starts to pass behind the sun. This is the perfect time to brush off your best "Uranus" jokes from fourth grade (to get you started, here's one of my personal favorites).

April 22 will bring the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. Like August's Perseid meteor shower, these meteors are bright, slightly blue, and often leave long trails. In an average year, about 10-15 meteors can be spotted in the sky, but it may be harder to see them this time because of the full moon.

3. In May, Mercury will transit the sun for the first time in a decade.

Image via ESA/NASA/SOHO.

Skywatchers in the southern hemisphere are in for a treat May 6-7 with the peak of the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. This shower is usually good for about 30 meteors an hour — but you might be able to see even more since it's happening during a new moon when the skies will be much darker.

One of the most anticipated astronomical events of 2016 will happen on May 9, when the planet Mercury passes in front of the sun for the first time in a decade! Mercury is tiny, so you won't be able to see its path across the sun with the naked eye or through a pinhole projector — you'll need a refracting telescope or one with a solar filter. Definitely do not stare directly into the sun trying to see it. Check out your local astronomy center or skywatching group to see if they're doing public viewings, or if you can wait, NASA will have plenty of photos afterward — like this collection from 2012's transit of Venus.

May 21 will bring 2016's first blue moon. Sadly, it won't appear blue (unless Instagram filters count); that's just the name for the second full moon in a month.

On May 22, the planet Mars reaches "opposition," also known as its closest point to Earth of the year. If you have a telescope or binoculars, this will be a good night to break them out and see the red planet in all its glory. The last time it was at opposition was 2003.

4. If you've saved up for binoculars or a telescope, June is a great month to break them in.

Image from NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.

Like Mars a few weeks earlier, Saturn's orbit will bring it closest to Earth on June 3. Skywatchers with home telescopes or medium-to-high-powered binoculars should be able to see Saturn's famous rings — and maybe even a few of her moons too.

5. Join NASA as Juno reaches Jupiter in July.

Image by NASA, ESA, and A. Simon/Wikimedia Commons.

Our solar system's largest resident will get a new visitor on July 4 with the arrival of NASA's Juno orbiter. Over the next two years, Juno will orbit Jupiter 37 times, collecting information about the planet's atmosphere, magnetosphere, and water content. You can learn more about the mission here.

6. Watch the world's most famous meteor shower in August.

Image by Tucker Hammerstrom/Flickr.

On Aug. 11-12, grab a friend, a blanket, and a bottle of wine and settle in for a late night sky spectacle courtesy of the Perseid meteor shower. Made of dusty bits from comet Swift-Tuttle, Perseid meteors appear as fast-moving bright blue streaks across the night sky.

This year is shaping up to be a particularly great show — some astronomers predict as many as 150 meteors will be visible every hour. Plus, with the moon at only a quarter-full (and setting shortly after midnight for folks in the Northern Hemisphere), the sky will be very dark. As astronomers say: Less light in the sky, more meteors to catch your eye. OK, they don't really say that. But they should.

On Aug. 27, early evening skywatchers will be able check out Venus and Jupiter in conjunction. It's the closest the two bright planets will be visible all year.

7. See an IRL "Ring of Fire" in September's partial solar eclipse.

Looking directly at the "ring of fire" of a partial solar eclipse burns burns burns ... your retinas. Image by Masaru Kamikura/Flickr.

On Sept. 1, skywatchers across Africa will be treated to an annular (or partial) solar eclipse. In this type of eclipse, the moon partially passes between the sun and the Earth, creating what some astronomers call the "ring of fire."

The path of the eclipse crosses Gabon, the Republic of the Congo, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Tanzania, Madagascar, and the tiny island nation of Réunion. In the past, generous astronomers have live-streamed images of eclipses; hopefully someone will do the same this year.

8. The first of three supermoons will rise in October.

Image by Bureau of Land Management/Flickr.

Oct. 16 brings the first of the years' three supermoons. During a supermoon, the moon's orbit brings it closer to Earth, making it appear larger and brighter than usual. It's a great time to dust off your camera and test out some night shots — here are some tips from a veteran lunar photographer.

Oct. 30 will bring 2016's only black moon, also known as the second new moon in a calendar month. If it is a clear night, black moons are a great chance to look for deep sky objects like the Andromeda galaxy or the Orion nebula.

9. Round out 2016 with two meteor showers and two more supermoons.

Image by Joshua Tree National Park/Flickr.

Nov. 14 brings the second supermoon of 2016 and the closest full moon to Earth since 1990. You won't want to miss this one — it's the closest the moon will get to Earth until 2021.

Skywatchers in the northern hemisphere should bundle up warm on Nov. 17 to take in the Leonid meteor shower. These meteors are my favorite every year — they're usually large, yellowish-green, and slow moving as they streak across the sky. The moon will be pretty bright in the night sky, but you can still expect to see about 10-15 meteors per hour.

Dec. 12 is the last full moon of the year and 2016's final supermoon. For astronomy fans, it'll be a mixed blessing since the bright light of the supermoon will blot out some of the Geminid meteor shower two days later. At its peak around 2:00 a.m. local time Dec. 13, the Geminid meteor shower can bring up to 120 meteors an hour into our atmosphere. They burn fast, bold, and bright — not great for photography, but perfect for wishes.

Happy skywatching!

Heroes

Comedy legend Carol Burnett once said, "Giving birth is like taking your lower lip and forcing it over your head." She wasn't joking.

Going through childbirth is widely acknowledged as one of the most grueling things a human can endure. Having birthed three babies myself, I can attest that Burnett's description is fairly accurate—if that seemingly impossible lip-stretching feat lasted for hours and involved a much more sensitive part of your body.

Keep Reading Show less
Family
via SNL / YouTube

Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors of his generation. He's been nominated for an Academy Award twice for best supporting actor, winning once for 1978's "The Deer Hunter" and receiving a nomination for 2002's "Catch Me if You Can."

He's played memorable roles in "Annie Hall," "Pulp Fiction," "Wedding Crashers," "Batman Returns," and countless other films. He's also starred in Shakespeare on the stage and began his career as a dancer.

Keep Reading Show less
Culture

Disney has come under fire for problematic portrayals of non-white and non-western cultures in many of its older movies. They aren't the only one, of course, but since their movies are an iconic part of most American kids' childhoods, Disney's messaging holds a lot of power.

Fortunately, that power can be used for good, and Disney can serve as an example to other companies if they learn from their mistakes, account for their misdeeds, and do the right thing going forward. Without getting too many hopes up, it appears that the entertainment giant may have actually done just that with the new Frozen II film.

According to NOW Toronto, the producers of Frozen II have entered into a contract with the Sámi people—the Indigenous people of the Scandinavian regions—to ensure that they portray the culture with respect.

RELATED: This fascinating comic explains why we shouldn't use some Native American designs.

Though there was not a direct portrayal of the Sámi in the first Frozen movie, the choral chant that opens the film was inspired by an ancient Sámi vocal tradition. In addition, the clothing worn by Kristoff closely resembled what a Sámi reindeer herder would wear. The inclusion of these elements of Sámi culture with no context or acknowledgement sparked conversations about cultural appropriation and erasure on social media.

Frozen II features Indigenous culture much more directly, and even addressed the issue of Indigenous erasure. Filmmakers Jennifer Lee and Chris Buck, along with producer Peter Del Vecho, consulted with experts on how to do that respectfully—the experts, of course, being the Sámi people themselves.

Sámi leaders met with Disney producer Peter Del Vecho in September 2019.Sámediggi Sametinget/Flickr

The Sámi parliaments of Norway, Sweden and Finland, and the non-governmental Saami Council reached out to the filmmakers when they found out their culture would be highlighted in the film. They formed a Sámi expert advisory group, called Verddet, to assist filmmakers in with how to accurately and respectfully portray Sámi culture, history, and society.

In a contract signed by Walt Disney Animation Studios and Sámi leaders, the Sámi stated their position that "their collective and individual culture, including aesthetic elements, music, language, stories, histories, and other traditional cultural expressions are property that belong to the Sámi," and "that to adequately respect the rights that the Sámi have to and in their culture, it is necessary to ensure sensitivity, allow for free, prior, and informed consent, and ensure that adequate benefit sharing is employed."

RELATED: This aboriginal Australian used kindness and tea to trump the racism he overheard.

Disney agreed to work with the advisory group, to produce a version of Frozen II in one Sámi language, as well as to "pursue cross-learning opportunities" and "arrange for contributions back to the Sámi society."

Anne Lájla Utsi, managing director at the International Sámi Film Institute, was part of the Verddet advisory group. She told NOW, "This is a good example of how a big, international company like Disney acknowledges the fact that we own our own culture and stories. It hasn't happened before."

"Disney's team really wanted to make it right," said Utsi. "They didn't want to make any mistakes or hurt anybody. We felt that they took it seriously. And the film shows that. We in Verddet are truly proud of this collaboration."

Sounds like you've done well this time, Disney. Let's hope such cultural sensitivity and collaboration continues, and that other filmmakers and production companies will follow suit.

popular

Gerrymandering is a funny word, isn't it? Did you know that it's actually a mashup of the name "Gerry" and the word "salamander"? Apparently, in 1812, Massachusetts governor Elbridge Gerry had a new voting district drawn that seemed to favor his party. On a map, the district looked like a salamander, and a Boston paper published it with the title The GerryMander.

That tidbit of absurdity seems rather tame compared to an entire alphabet made from redrawn voting districts a century later, and yet here we are. God bless America.

Keep Reading Show less
popular