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Mark your calendar, sky watchers. This year will be a real treat in terms of astronomical events, with a slew of remarkable sightings set to light up the sky.
With opportunities to wish upon shooting stars, and to see a Super Blue Moon and the Ring of Fire eclipse, 2023 is bursting with planet power. Here’s what to look for:
March 1: Venus and Jupiter
After a few quiet celestial months, western sky gazers have a chance to see Venus and Jupiter put on an illuminating show. Venus and Jupiter will appear to be nearly touching each other which will make them easy to find — though it’s a farce. The planets will be separated by millions of miles of space.
“It’s an optical illusion. They’re not really close together, but it’s a beautiful opportunity to get the planets with one stone, as it were,” said Noah Petro, a scientist with the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter Project at NASA
Venus will be in its brightest stage on the right side of Jupiter, so it will be hard to miss.
All viewers will have to do is pull out their binoculars or a telescope to catch the two planets in one peek. The best viewing options are after sunset.
June 21: Summer Solstice and Conjunction
Throughout the entire month of June, Venus and Mars will hang in the sky like Venus and Jupiter in March, the planets will be on the same astronomical line, which means they will appear as if they are grouped together.
On the first official day of summer, Venus, Mars and the Moon will form a triangle in the night sky, according to NASA ambassador Tony Rice.
Viewers across the globe should be able to look at the trio without special equipment because they will be shining so brightly.
Aug. 13-14: Perseid meteor shower
Onlookers in the Northern Hemisphere will get a warm treat while watching the Perseids this year. The event will be chock-full of slinging meteors, with up to 100 per hour, during its peak the night of Aug. 12, according to the American Meteor Society.
This year, the bright long-tailed balls will be active starting July 14 and ending Sept. 1.
The show, which is known for it “stronger meteor showers” according to Rice, will be unobscured by the moon this year as the moon will be illuminating at 10 percent capacity.
Aug. 27: Saturn Opposition
The end of August is an optimal time to look at the seven ringed gas giant, and second-largest planet in our solar system, as it reaches opposition. During opposition, the Earth straddles perfectly between Saturn and the Sun – it’s the time in Saturn’s orbit when it’s closest to the Earth.
Opposition technically occurs at a single moment in time, but if you look at the planet weeks before it hits opposition and weeks after, it will still be much brighter than usual, Rice told The Washington Post.
Saturn will be visible to the naked eye, but a telescope may be necessary to get a close-up of the planet’s famous dangling rings.
Sky watchers may be disappointed to learn that unlike the “blood moon,” which temporarily stains the moon red, blue hues aren’t cast on the moon during a blue moon. It simply means that the month of August will be dotted with two full moons – compared to full moons that generally occur once a calendar month. The second full moon on Aug. 31 is considered the blue moon.
But it won’t be just any blue moon. This blue moon will be considered a Super Blue Moon because the moon will appear to be larger and brighter, Rice said.
The event isn’t a once in a “blue moon” phenomenon since they happen relatively regularly, according to Petro. The last time a Super Blue Moon occurred was on Jan. 31, 2018.
Oct. 14: ‘Ring of Fire’ solar eclipse
Annular solar eclipses, commonly known as “ring of fire” eclipses, occur when the Earth, the moon and the sun are all in alignment, but the moon is too far from the Earth to completely block it. As the moon creeps in front of the sun, a fiery reddish and orange aura is cast on the fridges of the moon
Nearly all of North America will be able to see a partial solar eclipse, but the fiery show is reserved for only certain parts of the country. Residents from Oregon through Texas, across the Caribbean, through Central America and out across Brazil, will be in the best position to watch the moon be seemingly engulfed by flames, Petro said. The route of this annular solar eclipse foreshadows the path that the total solar eclipse will take in April 2024.
Since it’s a solar eclipse, viewers will have to wear special glasses to protect their eyes from the blinding rays.
To wrap up the year, sky watchers will be able to wish upon dozens of shooting stars right before the holiday season. The Geminids meteor shower reliably soars across the sky each year, like clockwork, around December. This year, the bright and intensely colored meteors will be active starting Nov. 19 and are slated to wrap up on Christmas Eve, according to the American Meteor Society.
The moon doesn’t appear to be a spoiler this year, so viewers will be able to watch the dazzling display without distractions. With little moonlight interruption, people could see up to 150 meteors per hour, according to American Meteor Society.