2022 has been a memorable year in astronomy. The James Webb Telescope began returning stellar images from all over the universe, two lunar eclipses graced the night sky, and Mars was back – big, bright, and shining like an orange beacon. So, what are the must-see events in the sky in 2023?
Get your calendars and write them down.
Planet pairings: Mars, Venus, Saturn, Jupiter
Mars still shines brightly in the eastern sky after dark. And after sunset on January 3, the Red Planet will be only 2-3 degrees away from the waxing gibbous moon. When you have two space objects close together, astronomers call it a conjunction.
On January 22, the planets Venus and Saturn will be only about 1/3 of a degree apart – so close to each other that you might be able to see them both at the same time through a telescope. On January 25, the crescent moon will conjunct the giant planet Jupiter.
The best conjunction of 2023 may occur on the evening of March 1. Just after sunset, when you look low in the western sky, you will see two incredibly bright “stars”. They are actually the two brightest planets: Venus and Jupiter. They will appear about 1/2 degree apart and almost seem to be touching.
Meteor showers: Lyrids, Orionids, Leonids, Geminids
It is always difficult to predict what kind of spectacle a meteor shower will bring. Most of the time, if there is a clear sky without moonlight, you can see about 12-15 shooting stars (meteors) per hour. There will be several promising meteor showers to look out for in 2023. The Lyrids peak on the night of April 22-23, but are generally a second level meteor shower. The showers with a higher chance of creating more shooting stars are the Orionids on October 21, the Leonids on November 17, and the Geminids on December 13.
Space missions: JUICE, Psyche, dearMoon
Several space missions are scheduled to launch in 2023. The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft is expected to lift off in April and take 8 years to reach orbit around the planet Jupiter. JUICE hopes to study three moons of Jupiter that have water ice: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
NASA’s Psyche mission was due to launch last September to visit the iron-rich asteroid 16 Psyche. Building the craft took longer than expected, and NASA pushed back the launch date by 13 months when 16 Psyche will be easier to reach.
Sending humans into space is always dangerous, but a new mission called dearMoon plans to launch a crew of 11 around the moon and back. Funded by Japanese billionaire Yusaku Maezawa and using SpaceX’s Starship rocket, dearMoon plans to launch these astro-tourists in 2023. Only 24 people have circled the moon and that hasn’t happened since 1972.
August 30-31 Super Moon Blue Moon
When you have two full moons in a calendar month, the second of the pair is often called a blue moon. The Moon doesn’t actually turn blue, it was just a nickname for a rare event.
The next Blue Moon will be on the night of August 30-31 and it should look a little bigger in the sky. This is because that night we will also have a supermoon. The moon varies its distance from the earth and when it is close to us and in the full moon state, you get a super moon. Around midnight on August 30 and 31, the moon will only be about 220,000 miles away from you, which is much closer than the average 239,000 miles. See if you can tell the difference.
October 14 annular solar eclipse
The most breathtaking astronomical event has to be a total solar eclipse. This is when the New Moon completely blocks out the sun, turning the sky into eerie shades of silvery purple. The sun has suddenly disappeared, replaced by the dark side of the moon and surrounded by a halo of wispy light the likes of which you will rarely see.
August 21, 2017 was the last time we had a visible total solar eclipse in the United States. And the next one isn’t too far away: April 8, 2024. However, we will have a near total eclipse during the daytime hours of October 14, 2023.
What you’ll see on October 14 depends on where you live. For most of the United States, part of the sun will be blocked by the moon, creating a partial solar eclipse. But a narrow swath of the country, from southern Oregon to southeast Texas, will experience an annular eclipse. It will look like a ring of fire in the sky.
During an annular eclipse, the moon is farther from Earth and doesn’t seem large enough to completely block out the sun. At the core of the annularity, the moon glides past the sun and appears to nestle completely inside the solar disk. Although not as spectacular as a total solar eclipse, an annular solar eclipse is still worth seeing. This annular eclipse will be visible from such beautiful locations as Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, Monument Valley in Arizona, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Looking at the sun is dangerous and you need certified eye protection even when looking at a burst of sunlight. Now would be a good time to buy specially designed eclipse glasses to be prepared for the 2023 and 2024 eclipses. Consider the October 14 annular solar eclipse your practice for the biggest show of 2024.
Make 2023 an astronomical year and try to see as many of these out-of-this-world events as possible.
Introduction to Astronomy: Online Course with Cincinnati Observatory
What: This three-night online astronomy course led by astronomer Dean Regas is perfect for beginners who want to learn more about observing the night sky.
When: 7 p.m.-8.15 p.m. on Tuesdays 3, 10 and 17 Jan.
Tickets: $30 per household.
Information: Reservations required, cincinnatiobservatory.org.
Dean Regas is the Cincinnati Observatory Astronomer and the author of the books “1000 Facts About Space” and “How to Teach Grown-Ups About Pluto”. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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