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August 30, 2019

Thanks to a geomagnetic storm, you'll be able to catch a glimpse of the northern lights across the northern United States this Labor Day weekend.

Pending a cloud-free night, the light phenomenon will be visible along the northern border of the U.S. from Washington to Maine on Saturday and Sunday, with the peak on Sunday, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association. People in parts of Alaska, Idaho, Montana, North Dakota, South Dakota, Minnesota, Michigan, Wisconsin, New York, Vermont, and Maine could all be in for the show, WNEM reports.

Aurora borealis is the result of electrons colliding with the Earth's atmosphere, propelling the atoms to higher energy states. When they fall back to lower states, the energy is released in the form of light, similar to the way a neon light works, according to the NOAA. The storm aligns with the new moon, making for a darker night sky and better viewing conditions.

Check out this map from the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute to see if you are in for some northern lights viewing this weekend. Taylor Watson

April 16, 2018

Monday marked the beginning of the annual Lyrid meteor shower, EarthSky reported. Lasting for nine days — until April 25 — the shower is composed of debris from the comet Thatcher, whose orbit crosses Earth's around this time every year. The comet was last spotted in 1861, and its 415-year-long orbit means it won't return until 2276.

But while we earthlings won't get to see the full-on comet, we will get to see parts of it light up the sky. The Lyrids are named after the Lyra constellation, the closest one to where they typically appear in the night sky. They comprise one of the oldest observed meteor showers, with early records of the Lyrid meteor shower dating back to 687 B.C., Business Insider notes.

The most meteors are expected to be visible from April 21 to April 23, with the peak just before dawn on April 22, Business Insider reported. Because of the waxing moon, it's expected that about 10 to 20 falling meteors per hour will be visible in areas of low light pollution during the peak. The brightness of the shower should enable it to be observed by the naked eye, and Business Insider noted that narrowing your point of view with a telescope might actually make you more likely to miss meteors falling.

Read more about how best to get a peek at EarthSky. Shivani Ishwar

January 30, 2018

There are very few compelling reasons to set your alarm for before 6 a.m., but millions of Americans will have a pretty good one Wednesday morning. Before the sun comes up, there will be a trifecta of concurrent rare lunar events — the first time they've all overlapped in 150 years, USA Today reports. The resulting phenomenon, called a "Super Blue Blood Moon," refers to the moon being a supermoon, blue moon, and eclipsing at the same time.

To break all that down: A supermoon is when the moon is closest to Earth, and therefore bigger and brighter than usual. A blue moon refers to it being the second full moon of the month. "Blood" refers to the red tint the moon gets during a total lunar eclipse. If you really want to go crazy, you can also throw in "snow" too, as a snow moon is a nickname for the second full moon of the year.

The spectacle is best viewed west of Kentucky, as the moon will set in the east as the eclipse progresses, BuzzFeed News reports. Learn when the Super Blue Blood Moon is visible in your area here, and watch NASA break down why this is so cool below. Jeva Lange

September 1, 2017

The biggest asteroid to pass Earth since recordkeeping began will cruise by beginning Friday night, and backyard stargazers will be able to spot it with a telescope, Time reports. Asteroid Florence is 2.7 miles across, but it will pass by at a safe distance of 4.4 million miles. "It's possible this asteroid could threaten our planet in the far distant future, but it's unlikely," Paul Chodas of NASA's Center for Near-Earth Object Studies told CNN.

At almost three miles wide, Florence will throw off a lot of light — it will appear about as bright as a 9th magnitude star, with its best chance of being seen being from a small telescope around 8 p.m. ET Saturday.

You'll want to take a look if you can — Florence hasn't been this close since 1890 and won't pass as close again until 2500. "Nothing this big has passed this close to Earth since we've been tracking," Chodas told Space.com. "This is a once-in-40-year-event kind of thing."

Learn how to spot Florence from your telescope at Sky & Telescope, or watch it online here. Jeva Lange

February 10, 2017

A full moon, a penumbral lunar eclipse, and a green comet will grace the nighttime sky Friday. The eclipse, during which February's full "snow moon" will be bathed in Earth's shadow, will start around 5:34 p.m. ET and is expected to peak at approximately 7:44 p.m. ET. Though the phenomenon is possible to see with the naked eye, a telescope or a livestream video will make the moon's shading starker.

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova will become most visible around 10:30 p.m. ET. However, the comet, which will appear bluish-green in color as it makes one of its closest approaches to Earth in decades, will not be easy to see without a telescope, or access to a livestream. The comet will make its way through Earth's sky through the weekend.

Free online telescope service Slooh will be streaming the full "snow moon" eclipse here, and the comet here. Becca Stanek

June 20, 2016

For the first time since 1967, the summer solstice will align with the rise of a strawberry moon, so named because it falls at the height of the strawberry harvest season. However, Monday's moon will likely also be rich gold in color — a "honeymoon."

According to Farmer's Almanac, during this occurrence "the sun gets super high so this moon must be super low … This forces [the moon's] light through thicker air, which also tends to be humid this time of year, and the combination typically makes it amber-colored."

Due to the rarity of such an event, telescopes will be streaming the strawberry moon on Monday night. Watch the stream beginning at 8 p.m. EDT. Jeva Lange

June 10, 2016

For thousands of years, mankind has been inspired by the night sky — a sky that we are slowly losing due to the proliferation of electric lighting. Released on Friday, the detailed New World Atlas of Artificial Night Sky Brightness reveals how light pollution is contaminating our dark nights and erasing the stars from view for hundreds of thousands around the globe.

"Twenty years ago, light pollution could be considered only a problem for astronomers. But fundamentally, life has evolved over millions of years with half the time dark and half the time light, and we have now enveloped our planet in a luminous fog of light. Light pollution has become a real environmental problem on a global scale," the atlas' lead author Fabio Falchi said.

According to the report, more than a third of the people living on the planet cannot see the Milky Way where they live due to light pollution, Scientific American reports. For Americans, it's even worse — four out of every five people can't see the silver band of our galaxy when the sun sets. In places like Singapore, South Korea, and Qatar, light pollution is so bad that people can hardly see any stars at all.

There are still regions of darkness on our planet — though they are steadily vanishing. Some of the friendliest regions to stargazers include Chad, Papua New Guinea, and Madagascar.

"Our civilization's religion, philosophy, science, art and literature all have roots with our views of the heavens, and we are now losing this with consequences we cannot fully know," Falchi said. "What happens when we cannot be inspired by the night sky?" Jeva Lange

January 19, 2016

Starting on Wednesday, for the first time in more than a decade, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn, and Jupiter will be visible to the naked eye all at the same time.

Jason Kendall of the Amateur Astronomers Association of New York told The New York Times in order to get the best view from the Northern Hemisphere, people should get up 45 minutes before sunrise and look to the east. "For Mercury you will need binoculars," he said. "It will not jump out at you, but everybody should be able to see Venus and Jupiter." Kendall also shared with the Times a way for people to determine if they're looking at a star or a planet: Close one eye, stretch your arm out, then slowly move your thumb over a bright dot in the sky. If it slowly dims when your thumb passes over, you're looking at a planet. If it blinks out quickly, it's a far away star.

The five planets will be visible before sunrise from Jan. 20 to Feb. 20. "It's not super often you get to see them all at the same time in the sky," Jackie Faherty, an astronomer from the American Museum of Natural History, told the Times. "It's like seeing all of your friends at once. There they are, the other rocks or balls of gas that are running around the sun." Catherine Garcia

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