10 astronomical events in 2018 and how you can see them

Need more astronomical phenomena in your life? We've got you covered. 

2018 started off with a tremendous lunar spectacle and promises to keep up the show. Here we have ten major astronomical events that will take place this year, including the stats on time, place, and which part of the sky to be looking in.


Super Blue Blood Moon

The moon rises over Istanbul. (Getty Images)

On January 31, 2018, people living in East Asia, the Pacific Islands, and the West Coast of the United States had the best views of a lunar eclipse which turned the moon a vibrant red. This eclipse was particularly special because it occurred as the moon was in perigee, the closest approach to the Earth in its orbit. For most time zones this was also the second full moon of the month, making it a “blue moon” as well. 


Solar Eclipse

A Multi-exposure photograph of a partial solar eclipse, similar to the one that will happen this year. (Getty Images)

On Feb 15 the moon will return for an encore and partially eclipse the sun. While this event will not be anywhere near as fantastic as the total eclipse seen by millions of Americans in 2017, it will still offer interesting views. Regrettably, most of the eclipse will occur over the South Pole, with only the ending of the event being visible to residents of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay. 

For anybody reading this in Buenos Aires, don’t forget your eclipse glasses.


Blue Moon

A blue moon rises over London. (Getty Images)

On March 2nd and 31st, the moon will be full. As it will be the second full moon in a calendar month, residents of Eastern and Central Asia will get a great view of a blue moon. For everybody living east of the dateline border, such as in the United States, the date will shift before the moon is truly full and it won’t count as being in the same month.

Of course, the moon itself won’t really be blue, it's just a name. A blue hue is possible after volcanic activity or wildfires as dust particles filter out red light, however.


Lyrid Meteor Shower

A falling star over Myanmar as part of the Lyrid meteor shower. (Getty Images)

This meteor shower is caused by Earth passing into dust shed by the long period comet C/1861 G1 (Thatcher). It is one of the oldest astronomical events known and it was likely referenced by the ancient Chinese in the work Zuo Zhuan. It is named for the constellation Lyra, and the meteors will seem to originate from that part of the sky.

This event occurs every year from April 16th to the 25th and commonly peaks around the evening of the 22nd. This meteor shower will be visible to the entire Northern hemisphere and for the extreme north of the Southern Hemisphere. 


Eta Aquariids 

Halley's Comet as seen from the Soviet spacecraft Vega in 1986. (Getty Images)

Yes, we know; the real Halley’s Comet isn’t coming back until 2061. For those of us who don’t want to wait, during the night of May 6 and 7th small remnants of the comet will be seen streaking across the sky. The Eta Aquariids meteor shower is comprised of dust particles left along the path of the famed comet which burn up as the Earth moves into them.

This shower isn’t very spectacular, but it is notable for being visible primarily in the Southern hemisphere. While the peak will be around the 7th of May there will be a week of activity, as it is with most meteor showers. It is named for the Aquarius constellation and the falling stars will be focused around it. 

Lunar Eclipse at Apogee.

Time lapse of a partial lunar eclipse over Pakistan. (Getty Images)

The second lunar eclipse of the year will also be the longest of the 21st century. The moon will be at apogee, the furthest the moon gets from the Earth in its orbit, and be passing right through the center of the Earth’s shadow. Such an eclipse is called a “central lunar eclipse” and is relatively rare.

The eclipse will occur on July 27th. It will be visible from Australia to Brazil, with the best views being over Eastern Africa and Central Asia. 


The Perseid meteor shower over the Lovell Radio Telescope. (Getty Images)

Named for the constellation Perseus, where it appears to originate. The source of this shower is the dust from the comet Swift-Tuttle. Most of the dust which will burn up to create this event has been drifting in Earth’s path for thousands of years, though some of it is known to have broken off its comet in 1865 and will cause a slight boost in activity right before the peak of the event.

This meteor shower will peak between August 12th and 13th; though it should be visible for some time before and after that as well. As with most meteor showers, the best views will come just before dawn. This meteor shower will be visible to everyone in the Northern Hemisphere


The Orion Nebula, which shares a namesake with the Orionid Shower. (Getty Images)

Another meteor shower, this time it seems to come from the Orion constellation.  The comet responsible for this event is none other than the famed Halley’s Comet. This is one of two annual meteor showers caused by dust from that comet, the other being the Eta Aquarids in May.

While the meteors will be visible for the first week of October, expect the peak to occur around the second. This shower will be visible in both the Northern and Southern hemispheres.


The green streak of a meteor seen in the southern sky of New England as part of the 2001 Leonids. (Getty Images)

Seeming to come out of the constellation Leo, this meteor shower is caused by the Earth moving into dust left behind by the comet Tempel-Tuttle.  While the most spectacular events this shower can produce were seen between 1999 and 2002, this year’s Leonids will still be fun to watch and stronger than last year. This meteor shower also has the distinction of having produced one of the most, if not the most, amazing shows on record. In 1833 it was estimated that more than 240,000 meteors were visible over nine hours in the skies of the United States and Mexico.

Occurring for most of November, the peak of this event will be between the 17th and 18th. This event will be visible everywhere in the world no matter which hemisphere you find yourself in.


A shooting star as part of the Geminids meteor shower. (Getty Images). 

The last major astronomical event of the year is yet another meteor shower. This is one of two meteor showers not caused by a comet. Instead, the source for the dust which creates the dazzling spectacle is the asteroid 3200 Phaethon. This shower is notable for its consistency and the medium speed of the falling stars, making it an excellent choice for beginning stargazers.

The event can last from December 7th to the 17th and tends to peak around the 14th. This event will be visible primarily to residents of the Northern Hemisphere, though amateur astronomers in the tropical areas of the Southern Hemisphere may be able to see a view falling stars.


Now, get out to a nice, dark, place in the countryside and look up. 


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How a huge, underwater wall could save melting Antarctic glaciers

Scientists think constructing a miles-long wall along an ice shelf in Antarctica could help protect the world's largest glacier from melting.

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  • Rising ocean levels are a serious threat to coastal regions around the globe.
  • Scientists have proposed large-scale geoengineering projects that would prevent ice shelves from melting.
  • The most successful solution proposed would be a miles-long, incredibly tall underwater wall at the edge of the ice shelves.

The world's oceans will rise significantly over the next century if the massive ice shelves connected to Antarctica begin to fail as a result of global warming.

To prevent or hold off such a catastrophe, a team of scientists recently proposed a radical plan: build underwater walls that would either support the ice or protect it from warm waters.

In a paper published in The Cryosphere, Michael Wolovick and John Moore from Princeton and the Beijing Normal University, respectively, outlined several "targeted geoengineering" solutions that could help prevent the melting of western Antarctica's Florida-sized Thwaites Glacier, whose melting waters are projected to be the largest source of sea-level rise in the foreseeable future.

An "unthinkable" engineering project

"If [glacial geoengineering] works there then we would expect it to work on less challenging glaciers as well," the authors wrote in the study.

One approach involves using sand or gravel to build artificial mounds on the seafloor that would help support the glacier and hopefully allow it to regrow. In another strategy, an underwater wall would be built to prevent warm waters from eating away at the glacier's base.

The most effective design, according to the team's computer simulations, would be a miles-long and very tall wall, or "artificial sill," that serves as a "continuous barrier" across the length of the glacier, providing it both physical support and protection from warm waters. Although the study authors suggested this option is currently beyond any engineering feat humans have attempted, it was shown to be the most effective solution in preventing the glacier from collapsing.

Source: Wolovick et al.

An example of the proposed geoengineering project. By blocking off the warm water that would otherwise eat away at the glacier's base, further sea level rise might be preventable.

But other, more feasible options could also be effective. For example, building a smaller wall that blocks about 50% of warm water from reaching the glacier would have about a 70% chance of preventing a runaway collapse, while constructing a series of isolated, 1,000-foot-tall columns on the seafloor as supports had about a 30% chance of success.

Still, the authors note that the frigid waters of the Antarctica present unprecedently challenging conditions for such an ambitious geoengineering project. They were also sure to caution that their encouraging results shouldn't be seen as reasons to neglect other measures that would cut global emissions or otherwise combat climate change.

"There are dishonest elements of society that will try to use our research to argue against the necessity of emissions' reductions. Our research does not in any way support that interpretation," they wrote.

"The more carbon we emit, the less likely it becomes that the ice sheets will survive in the long term at anything close to their present volume."

A 2015 report from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine illustrates the potentially devastating effects of ice-shelf melting in western Antarctica.

"As the oceans and atmosphere warm, melting of ice shelves in key areas around the edges of the Antarctic ice sheet could trigger a runaway collapse process known as Marine Ice Sheet Instability. If this were to occur, the collapse of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) could potentially contribute 2 to 4 meters (6.5 to 13 feet) of global sea level rise within just a few centuries."

Why the worst part about climate change isn't rising temperatures

The world's getting hotter, and it's getting more volatile. We need to start thinking about how climate change encourages conflict.

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These things are bad, make no mistake about it. But the thing that makes climate change truly dire isn't that Cape Cod will be underwater next century, that polar bears will go extinct, or that we'll have to invent new categories for future hurricanes. It's the thousands of ancillary effects — the indirect pressure that climate change puts on every person on the planet.

How a drought in the Middle East contributed to extremism in Europe


Nigel Farage in front of a billboard that leverages the immigration crisis to support Brexit.

Because climate change is too big for the mind to grasp, we'll have to use a case study to talk about this. The Syrian civil war is a horrific tangle of senseless violence, but there are some primary causes we can point to. There is the longstanding conflicts between different religious sects in that country. Additionally, the Arab Spring swept Syria up in a wave of resistance against authoritarian leaders in the Middle East — unfortunately, Syrian protests were brutally squashed by Bashar Al-Assad. These, and many other factors, contributed to the start of the Syrian civil war.

One of these other factors was drought. In fact, the drought in that region — it started in 2006 — has been described as the "worst long-term drought and most severe set of crop failures since agricultural civilization began in the Fertile Crescent many millennia ago." Because of this drought, many rural Syrians could no longer support themselves. Between 2006 and 2009, an estimated 1.5 million Syrians — many of them agricultural workers and farmers — moved into the country's major cities. With this sudden mixing of different social groups in a country where classes and religious sects were already at odds with one another, tensions rose, and the increased economic instability encouraged chaos. Again, the drought didn't cause the civil war — but it sure as hell helped it along.

The ensuing flood of refugees to Europe is already a well-known story. The immigration crisis was used as a talking point in the Brexit movement to encourage Britain to leave the EU. Authoritarian or extreme-right governments and political parties have sprung up in France, Italy, Greece, Hungary, Slovenia, and other European countries, all of which have capitalized on fears of the immigration crisis.

Why climate change is a "threat multiplier"

This is why both NATO and the Pentagon have labeled climate change as a "threat multiplier." On its own, climate change doesn't cause these issues — rather, it exacerbates underlying problems in societies around the world. Think of having a heated discussion inside a slowly heating-up car.

Climate change is often discussed in terms of its domino effect: for example, higher temperatures around the world melt the icecaps, releasing methane stored in the polar ice that contributes to the rise in temperature, which both reduces available land for agriculture due to drought and makes parts of the ocean uninhabitable for different animal species, wreaking havoc on the food chain, and ultimately making food more scarce.

Maybe we should start to consider climate change's domino effect in more human and political terms. That is, in terms of the dominoes of sociopolitical events spurred on by climate change and the missing resources it gobbles up.

What the future may hold

(NASA via Getty Images)

Increasingly severe weather events will make it more difficult for nations to avoid conflict.

Part of why this is difficult to see is because climate change does not affect all countries proportionally — at least, not in a direct sense. Germanwatch, a German NGO, releases a climate change index every year to analyze exactly how badly different countries have been affected by climate change. The top five most at-risk countries are Haiti, Zimbabwe, Fiji, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam. Notice that many of these places are islands, which are at the greatest risk for major storms and rising sea levels. Some island nations are even expected to literally disappear — the leaders of these nations are actively making plans to move their citizens to other countries.

But Germanwatch's climate change index is based on weather events. It does not account for the political and social instability that will likely result. The U.S. and many parts of Europe are relatively low on the index, but that is precisely why these countries will most likely need to deal with the human cost of climate change. Refugees won't go from the frying pan into the fire: they'll go to the closest, safest place available.

Many people's instinctive response to floods of immigrants is to simply make borders more restrictive. This makes sense — a nation's first duty is to its own citizens, after all. Unfortunately, people who support stronger immigration policies tend to have right-wing authoritarian tendencies. This isn't always the case, of course, but anecdotally, we can look at the governments in Europe that have stricter immigration policies. Hungary, for example, has extremely strict policies against Muslim immigrants. It's also rapidly turning into a dictatorship. The country has cracked down on media organizations and NGOs, eroded its judicial system's independence, illegalized homelessness, and banned gender studies courses.

Climate change and its sociopolitical effects, such as refugee migration, aren't some poorer country's problem. It's everyone's problem. Whether it's our food, our homes, or our rights, climate change will exact a toll on every nation on Earth. Stopping climate change, or at least reducing its impact, is vitally important. Equally important is contending with the multifaceted threats its going to throw our way.