Everyone’s looking up—and logging on.
The pandemic is causing a spike in stargazing at home and virtual events online, which and this weekend sees a special “One People, One Sky” event to mark Global Astronomy Month.
The centrepiece is the “Global Star Party: Stars For All” that’s being staged on Saturday, April 17, 2021 by Astronomers Without Borders and the Virtual Telescope Project.
Also part of the event will be “Beauty Without Borders,” a photo campaign to encourage everyone to take and post photos of the special Moon-Mars conjunction this weekend.
What is the ‘Global Star Party’ event?
It’s an online telescope sky tour in celebration of the Global Star Party. It’s going to be hosted by Gianluca Masi, Astronomy Without Borders National Coordinator for Italy and astrophysicist with the Virtual Telescope Project.
When is the ‘Global Star Party’ event?
The online observing session begins at 19:00 UTC on April 17, 2021, which translates to:
- 12:00 p.m PDT
- 3:00 p.m. EDT
- 8:00 p.m. BST
- 9:00 p.m. CEST
What will we see during the ‘Global Star Party’ event?
A massive 17-inch robotic telescope in Ceccano, central Italy—about 90km south of Rome—will be your window on the Universe. “Our journey will start with the Moon, that evening showing as a very beautiful, sharp crescent,” Masi told me. “After exploring its craters, we will leave for some of the most beautiful galaxies out there—Messier 51, NGC 4565, Messier 64, Messier 81 and 82. With them, we will travel back in time since they are millions of light years away from us and we will see them as they were millions of years ago.”
Masi will also show the world a couple of supernovae—exploding stars—that have very recently appeared in other galaxies, which he describes as “very special fireworks to celebrate Global Astronomy Month!”
Back in our Milky Way galaxy, the session will also include the amazing Messier 3 globular cluster and—much closer to home—a couple of asteroids that are buzzing close to Earth.
What is the Moon-Mars conjunction?
Look to the southwest after dark on Saturday, April 17, 2021 and those in the northern hemisphere will see our satellite very close to Mars. It’s the only planet visible to the naked eye in the evenings this month. For observers in parts of Asia this conjunction will be even more dramatic as Mars gets occulted—covered-up—by the Moon for a few hours.
That event will form the second part of the “Global Star Party”—a “Beauty Without Borders” photo campaign with timeanddate.com. The organisers want the public to use their smartphones and cameras to capture their views of the conjunction and share it—just as they did last year for a Moon-Venus conjunction.
All images of the encounter of Mars and the Moon taken at different geographical locations across the world and tagged with #beautywithoutborders will be used to create a unique animation that will allow everyone to discover how the relative apparent positions of Mars and the Moon change with time and viewing location.
How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected stargazing and astronomy?
Look online and you’ll find that there’s been a mushrooming of virtual observing events since lockdown began in March 2020. “The COVID-19 pandemic strongly affected the astronomy world—many observatories need astronomers on-site to operate the telescopes, and this was impossible,” said Masi. “A fully robotic facility like our Virtual Telescope Project made it possible for us to bring the real-time, live Universe to everyone, everywhere, with no limitations at all.”
He reports that in 2020 the group’s live events recorded 3.6 million viewers, a record since it started 2006. “These numbers tell how important the sky and space are for the people,” said Masi. “Especially when their physical, real space and movements are limited by the pandemic. ”
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.