This year has a lot of celestial wonder in store, from stunning meteor showers to a super blue moon and a ring of fire eclipse.
Jackie Faherty is an astronomer at the American Museum of Natural History in New York. She says the first thing to look out for are “naked eye planets” — planets you can see without the aid of a telescope, like Mercury, Venus, Mars and Jupiter.
According to Faherty, by January 22, Venus is going to be particularly close to Saturn, providing an opportunity to see “two bright objects” in close proximity to each other.
Then, on March 1, Venus closes in on Jupiter.
“That’s a good one to look for, the planets meeting each other in the sky,” Faherty says.
In August, we will experience two full moons, which is commonly referred to as a blue moon. People often mistakenly believe that this is an incredibly rare event.
“There’s this saying that, ‘oh, it only happens once in a blue moon,’ but actually it’s not rare at all. And blue moons happen every two and a half years.”
The moon may be beautiful, but for astronomers, it can be a “pain in the butt.”
“In areas with light pollution, the moon still shines, but to see darker things, you want the moon to go away,” she explains.
Big night sky events often depend on the moon being less full
There are two special meteor showers to put on your calendar this year: Perseids in August and Geminids in December. If the moon and the weather play nicely, close to 150 meteors could be seen an hour.
“The meteor showers are great for equitable observing because all you really need is open sky,” says Faherty.
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Faherty’s advice for meteor shower observers
“You just have to be patient. Just carry with you the biggest part of patience that you have, because it’s not like you’re going to be able to look up and be dazzled immediately. You’ve got to wait for it.”
On October 14, keep an eye on the sky for a partial eclipse.
“We call that the ring of fire eclipse. The moon doesn’t fully cover the sun and leaves this ring around where the moon would be,” Faherty says.
But what we should really be preparing for, Faherty says, is a total solar eclipse in April 2024.