2022 was a memorable year in astronomy. The James Webb Telescope began transmitting stellar images of the entire universe, two lunar eclipses graced the night skies, and Mars was back: big, bright, and bright as an orange beacon. So what are the must-see events in the skies for 2023?
Get your calendars and mark them.
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 from the waxing gibbous moon. When you have two space objects close to each other, astronomers call it a conjunction.
On January 22, the planets Venus and Saturn will be only 1/3 of a degree apart, so close that you can see them both at the same time through a telescope. On January 25, the crescent moon will be in conjunction with the giant planet Jupiter.
Possibly, the best conjunction of 2023 will occur on the afternoon of March 1. Just after sunset, when you look down into the western sky, you will see two incredibly bright “stars.” These are actually the two brightest planets: Venus and Jupiter. They will appear approximately 1/2 degree apart from each other and will almost appear to be touching.
Meteor showers: Lyrids, Orionids, Leonids, Geminids
It’s always hard to predict what kind of show a meteor shower will bring. Most of the time, if there are clear skies without moonlight, 12-15 shooting stars (meteors) can be seen per hour. There will be several promising meteor showers to look for in 2023. The Lyrids peak on the night of April 22-23, but they are usually a second-tier meteor shower. The showers most likely to create the most 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 planned to be launched in 2023. The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft is scheduled to lift off in April and will take 8 years to reach orbit around the planet Jupiter. JUICE hopes to study three Jupiter moons that have water ice: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
NASA’s Psyche mission was scheduled to launch last September to visit the iron-rich asteroid 16 Psyche. Construction of the spacecraft 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 propel 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 sometime in 2023. Only 24 people have been around the moon and it hasn’t been since 1972.
August 30-31 Supermoon of the 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 occurrence.
The next Blue Moon will be on the night of August 30-31 and it should look a bit bigger in the sky. This is because that night we will also have a supermoon. The moon varies its distance from Earth and when it is close to us and in a full moon state, a supermoon is obtained. On August 30 and 31, around midnight, the moon will be only about 220,000 miles from you, much closer than the average 239,000 miles. See if you can tell the difference.
Annular solar eclipse of October 14
The absolute and most impressive astronomical event has to be a total solar eclipse. That’s when the New Moon completely blocks out the sun, turning the sky into eerie shades of silver-purple. The sun is suddenly gone, replaced by the dark side of the moon and fringed by a halo of dim light of the kind you’ll rarely see.
August 21, 2017 was the last time we had a visible total solar eclipse in the United States. And the next one is not far away: April 8, 2024. However, we will have a near-total eclipse during daylight hours on October 14, 2023.
What you’ll see on October 14 depends on where you live. For most of the United States, the moon will block out a portion of the sun, creating a partial solar eclipse. But a narrow swath of the country, from southern Oregon to southeastern Texas, will be treated to 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 does not appear large enough to completely block the sun. At the heart of the annularity, the moon glides in front of the sun and appears to nestle entirely within the solar disk. Although not as dramatic as a total solar eclipse, it is worth a trip to view an annular solar eclipse. This annular eclipse will be visible from some truly beautiful locations including Crater Lake National Park in Oregon, Capitol Reef National Park in Utah, Monument Valley in Arizona, and Santa Fe, New Mexico.
Looking into the sun is dangerous and you need certified eye protection even when looking into a sunbeam. This would be a great time to buy specially made eclipse glasses so you can be ready for the eclipses of 2023 and 2024. Consider the annular solar eclipse on October 14 your practice session for the biggest show in 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 the Cincinnati Observatory
Than: 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: 7-8:15 pm Tuesday, January 3, 10 and 17.
Tickets: $30 per household.
Information: Reservations required, cincinnatiobservatory.org.
Dean Regas is the Cincinnati Observatory Astronomer and author of the books “1000 Facts About Space” and “Teaching Adults About Pluto.” He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.