From gravitational waves to weird radio signals, 2016 has been a busy year in the field of astronomy. With the constant deluge of ongoing news and controversies, it’s easy to lose sight of what’s happening in the world of outer space. So here are the top 10 stories in astronomical discoveries you should know about.
December 14th will bring the third and last of what is known as the “supermoon.” The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Cold Moon because this is the time of year when the cold winter air settles in and the nights become long and dark.
The third supermoon has also been known as the Full Long Nights Moon and the Moon Before Yule. This Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.
The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17.
Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a swirling anticyclonic storm that was previously large enough to fit three Earths inside. However, observations taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revealed that this is changing, both in shape and size.
So why is Jupiter’s trademark feature beginning to downsize?
The Leonids is an average meteor shower, producing up to 15 meteors per hour at its peak. This shower is unique in that it has a cyclonic peak about every 33 years where hundreds of meteors per hour can be seen. The last of these occurred in 2001.
November 14 will bring the second of three “supermoons” of the year. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Beaver Moon because this was the time of year to set the beaver traps before the swamps and rivers froze.
It has also been known as the Frosty Moon and the Hunter’s Moon. The November 14th full moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.
The Taurids meteor shower is a long-running minor meteor shower producing only about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is unusual in that it consists of two separate streams. The first is produced by dust grains left behind by Asteroid 2004 TG10. The second stream is produced by debris left behind by Comet 2P Encke. The shower runs annually from September 7 to December 10.
The Orionids is an average meteor shower producing up to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Halley, which has been known and observed since ancient times.
This Oct. 15, the blue-green planet Uranus will be at its closest approach to Earth and its face will be fully illuminated by the Sun. It will be brighter than any other time of the year and will be visible all night long. This happens because when Uranus lies opposite the Sun in the sky, the solar system is lined up so that Uranus, the Earth and the Sun form a straight line with the Earth in the middle, on the same side of the Sun as Uranus.
The Draconids is a minor meteor shower producing only about 10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet 21P Giacobini-Zinner, which was first discovered in 1900.