Several stunning spectacles are coming up and they’re not to be missed.
A full moon always gets people talking, but a supermoon, well… that’s another level of celestial spectacle entirely. Supermoons are a rare phenomenon eagerly anticipated by avid astronomers and ardent photographers in equal measure, and the first one of the year is now just around the corner. Before it shows its face in late April, however, there are several preceding events on the cosmic calendar to look out for in the skies above Chicago.
Zodiacal Light (Early April)
According to AccuWeather, “a mysterious pyramid of light will be visible in early April after sunset.” The zodiacal light is sometimes called ‘false dawn’ due to the spectacular white glow that protrudes up from the horizon. Interplanetary dust particles reflect the light of the sun illuminating the horizon and extending upwards in a cone-like shape.
The glow shines from the western horizon providing an exceptional and enigmatic sight that is best experienced in locations devoid of city lights.
Lyrid Meteor Shower (April 22)
The Lyrid meteor shower occurs every April, usually from April 16 to April 25. The peak of the shower is nearly always on the night of April 22 when about 20 meteors shoot across the night sky per hour producing bright dust trails as they do.
The Lyrids are the oldest recorded meteor shower with first reports dating back to 687 BC. As with the zodiacal lights, the best chance to see them would be from venturing away from the city center to an area less affected by artificial light.
The moon may interfere this year so for those really committed to seeing the “Lyrid fireballs” it is best to stay up after the moon has set and catch a glimpse before dawn twilight begins.
The “Super Pink Moon” (April 26)
The highlight of April’s astronomical events is the first supermoon of the year. Supermoons are normally spaced fourteen months apart, but this year we are being treated to two in quick succession and the first, dubbed the “Super Pink Moon” will arrive on April 26.
A supermoon, or rather a full moon that coincides with the moon’s closest orbital point to Earth (called the perigee), is 30 percent brighter in the night sky and 14 percent larger than when the moon is at its apogee (the furthest point from Earth). In other words, the moon illuminates the sky and offers a fantastic opportunity for photographers.
Don’t expect the moon to drastically change color, however, the pink supermoon traces its name back to early Native American tribes who called it such because it marked the appearance of the ground phlox (or moss pink) – one of the first spring flowers.
This year the moon will reach peak illumination at 22:33 pm CDT.
There will also be a second supermoon occurring on 26 May 2021, but this will be overshadowed by an even bigger astronomical event – a total lunar eclipse – causing the May supermoon to appear blood-red in the sky as it’s obscured by the Earth’s shadow.
For the best views of the two supermoons, and views of astronomical spectacles in general, it’s always recommended to head to places with as little light pollution as possible. If you’re living in the city, finding dark skies can be a little difficult. But to help you on your mission, use this light pollution map to guide your way.
[Featured image from Twitter / @DerekMellott]