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Mark Your Calendar: Five Astronomical Events You Won't Want to Miss This Winter

As the Northern Hemisphere plunges into winter, the night sky will come to life with several notable astronomical events throughout the season.

You don't need to be a professional astronomer, or even have a telescope, to catch all of these celestial events.

This winter in particular will feature a wide variety of astronomical events that can be seen from your backyard, ranging from meteor showers to planetary alignments and even the first lunar eclipse of 2016.

JUMP TO: Geminid Meteor Shower to Peak in December| Planets to Glow in Night Sky During January | Comet Catalina to Glide Through the Sky | First Lunar Eclipse of 2016 to Put on Display in U.S., Canada | Winter is the Best Season for Viewing the Northern Lights

Geminid Meteor Shower to Peak in December

The most impressive meteor shower of the year will kick off the winter season, taking place during the middle of December.

As many as 120 shooting stars may be seen every hour during the peak of the Geminid Meteor Shower, which will occur the night of Dec. 13 into Dec. 14. This is one of the highest rates of all the meteor showers throughout the year.

Stargazers should be able to see some of the brightest meteors streak across the sky from their backyard. However, to maximize the number of shooting stars that you, find a spot away from towns and cities to reduce the amount of light pollution.

According to EarthSky, "Geminid meteors tend to be few and far between at early evening but intensify in number as evening deepens into late night."

The best time to view the Geminids will be around 2 a.m. when the radiant point, or point at which the meteors originate, reaches its highest point in the night sky.

Even though the radiant point will be in the West, you do not have to be looking westward to see the meteors. You will be able to see meteors streak across all parts of the sky, even if your back is facing the radiant point.

Be sure to check your local forecast leading up to the peak of the meteor shower to determine if clouds will block your view.

Planets to Glow in Night Sky During January

This winter will be an excellent opportunity for stargazers to see every planet in our solar system.

Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will all be visible in the predawn sky by January. The best time to see the planets will be an hour to an hour and a half before sunrise.

The quartet of planets will be located in the same portion of the sky, meaning that if you can find one planet, you should be able to find the other three with ease.

Venus is typically the easiest to find since it is one of the brightest objects in the sky and will be located to the southeast. Jupiter will stand out as a bright light to the southwest.

Once you find Venus and Jupiter, the remaining two planets will be easier to find. Saturn and Mars will be located between the two with Saturn being located closer to Venus and Mars giving off a slightly red glow.

Mercury will join the planetary alignment at the end of January and the first half of February. It will appear as a faint dot above the western horizon about an hour before sunrise.

Uranus and Neptune are some of the largest objects in our solar system, but they are difficult to see due to their distance from the Earth and sun. Because of how dim these two planets appear, a telescope will be required to spot them.

Unlike the other five planets, these ice giants will only be observable during the first half of the night, rather than near the end of the night.

Constellations can be used as a reference point to help guide you to the location of Uranus and Neptune. Uranus can be found near the Pisces constellation while Neptune may be found near the Aquarius consolation.

Comet Catalina to Glide Through the Sky

In addition to planets and meteors, a comet will speed across the early morning sky over the coming weeks.

Comet Catalina, a small comet that made a close approach to the sun in November, will make its way across the sky through the winter, giving off a faint green glow.

"The comet will be visible into January as it rises high into the night sky," AccuWeather Meteorologist Dave Samuhel said.

"However, it will also dim as it moves farther away from our solar system," Samuhel added.

It is unlikely that this comet will be visible to the unaided eye, but it should be visible with a pair of binoculars.

First Lunar Eclipse of 2016 to Put on Display in U.S., Canada

The first of two lunar eclipses of 2016 will take place at the end of the winter. This will be the only lunar eclipse that will be visible in the United States in 2016.

March's lunar eclipse will be a Penumbral eclipse, meaning that the moon will only pass through the outer part of the Earth's shadow.

As a result, only a small part of the moon will be shaded as the moon passes behind the Earth. This is much different than a total lunar eclipse when the moon passes behind the Earth and passes directly through the darkest part of the shadow.

As long as the weather cooperates, a majority of the people in the U.S. and Canada will be able to see part of the eclipse. Those on the West Coast are in for a special treat as they will be able to view the eclipse in its entirety.

People in South America, Australia and eastern Asia will also be able to witness part or all of the eclipse while those in Europe and Africa will not be able to see it.

Winter is the Best Season for Viewing the Northern Lights

Compared to meteor showers, planetary alignments and eclipses, determining when the northern lights will dance across the night sky is extremely difficult.

The aurora frequents the higher latitudes near the poles, but it takes a strong solar storm to allow the Aurora Borealis to be seen farther south in places such as the U.S., Europe and northern Asia.

It is nearly impossible to forecast when a solar storm will occur, but when it does, astronomers can determine when it will affect the Earth and what areas of the world may see the dazzling light show.

The longer nights and drier air of winter make it the best season of the year for viewing the aurora.

Whenever a solar storm hits and the northern lights ignite, there are a few tips to follow to catch a better glimpse.

"My top suggestion would be to go to an area that is pitch dark for the best chance to see the aurora," Samuhel explained.

This means that you'll have to travel away from towns and cities that give off light pollution. Otherwise, the city lights will drown out the vivid colors of Aurora Borealis.

You should also try to find a location that has a view of the northern horizon, since that is the part of the sky that you will have the greatest chance of seeing them.

"Even if the aurora is not able to be seen with the the naked eye, you might still be able to take pictures of it by using long exposure photography," Samuhel added.

For more news and information about astronomical events, be sure to follow the AccuWeather Astronomy Blog and the AccuWeather Astronomy Facebook page.