On Thursday, some parts of the world get to see a partial lunar eclipse. New Jersey does not. But at least we can enjoy that night's "blue moon," or the month's second full moon. The next occurrence of two full moons in one calendar month will be August 2012.

We can also think about the fact that the eastern U.S. will experience a far lovelier eclipse, a total eclipse of the moon, in the year I want to preview for us today - 2010.

Sky wonders in 2010: The year will begin with Mars coming its closest to Earth and ends with our first total eclipse of the moon in almost three years. In between, there will be many sights to marvel at above.

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The year's first big planet event is our encounter with Mars in late January. Fire-colored Mars will rival the brightest star in radiance. Surface features of the planet will also be visible in amateur telescopes.

Mars will take its place in the long string of planets and bright stars which from May to late summer will contract and bunch into close pairings of heavenly lights in the evening sky. Included in the string will be blazing Venus, returning to visibility in the evening sky from February to October, and Saturn, which gives us a great view of its rings near their thinnest in May. Jupiter is at its brightest and biggest near fall's start, when it has one of its three close encounters with the dim, distant planet Uranus.

Last Tuesday, I wrote about how wonderful the annual Geminid meteor shower was a few weeks ago. It should be spectacular again in December 2010, although we will have to wait until after midnight next time for the bright moon to fade from the sky. The other most powerful meteor shower of most years, the Perseids of August, will be almost perfectly timed for us in 2010.

There are two old comets which may become dimly visible to the naked eye in 2010 (one of them will pass rather close and be visited by an unmanned spacecraft). But it's always possible that a new, spectacular long-period comet - or other surprise celestial phenomenon - may be discovered in 2010 and provide our world with a stunning show.

Speaking of stunning, there will be a total eclipse of the sun at one of the most remote places in the world, Easter Island, on July 11. But the major eclipse visible from the eastern U.S. in 2010 will be a total eclipse of the moon in the pre-dawn hours of Dec. 21. We will have to wait to see what lovely shade of red, and traces of other colors, the moon then turns.

Sights for this week: As usual, the brightest star, Sirius, is at its highest in the south sky in the first minute of the new year. At about 8 p.m. Saturday, look due left of the big rising moon to see brightening, fire-colored Mars.

Fred Schaaf is a local author and astronomer. He can be reached at:


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