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Sky Guide 2015

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If total eclipses whet your appetite, then 2015 will provide a veritable feast. For the first time in a dozen years, three total eclipses — two of the Moon and one of the Sun — take place in a single calendar year. The first of this trio is the March 20 total solar eclipse. Although the path of totality is quite wide (287 miles at the moment of maximum eclipse), it doesn’t cross any major landmasses. For those who want to avoid a cruise, the only spots where you can witness totality from terra firma are the Danish Faroe Islands and the Norwegian island of Svalbard. Greatest eclipse occurs nearly 300 miles east of Iceland and brings 2 minutes and 47 seconds of totality.

The two lunar eclipses offer easier access. On April 4, observers can witness totality from a clear location anywhere from central North America westward across the Pacific to eastern Asia. The Moon dips into Earth’s dark umbral shadow for only 4 minutes and 43 seconds, however, which makes this the 21st century’s shortest total lunar eclipse. In fact, this is the briefest duration of totality since October 17, 1529. The night of September 27/28, 2015, brings a heartier 72 minutes of totality to viewers across North and South America, Europe, and Asia.

Planet-watchers also have a lot to look forward to in 2015. Venus dominates the evening sky until early August and then reigns before dawn from late August through year’s end. Jupiter, which reaches opposition in early February, plays a worthy second fiddle — never as bright as Venus but always brighter than any star. These two brilliant worlds have a pair of stunning conjunctions in 2015 — in the evening sky July 1 and before dawn October 26.
The latter conjunction takes place just 4° from Mars. Although the Red Planet doesn’t reach opposition in 2015, its ruddy glow enhances the conjunction scene. That leaves lovely Saturn, which reaches peak visibility opposite the Sun on May 22. It then lies in eastern Libra just north of the familiar shape of Scorpius the Scorpion.

After a decent 2014, meteor observers can rejoice at what 2015 will offer. The two best annual meteor showers — August’s Perseids and December’s Geminids — both peak around New Moon. With our satellite out of the picture, viewers at dark sites can expect to see an average of more than one meteor per minute.
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Observing the night sky is a fun and easy activity that anyone can do, but getting started can be daunting for beginners.
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