ECLIPSES, OPPOSITIONS, SPECTACULAR CONJUNCTIONS, a close encounter between Venus and the Pleiades and many more celestial sights await stargazers this year.
Here’s our list of events to mark in your calendar. All of them are as seen from mid-latitudes in the Southern Hemisphere.
17 Mars and the star Antares will be seen 5° apart.
23 Daytime lunar occultation of Jupiter — see occultation box.
27–28 Using binoculars or a telescope, Venus and Neptune can be seen close together.
9 The Alpha Centaurid meteor shower peaks this morning, but will be affected by the Moon.
11 Mercury reaches greatest elongation east, at 18.2°.
20 Look for Jupiter and the slender crescent Moon together in the early morning sky.
21 This morning it’ll be Saturn and the Moon’s turn to be close together.
26 Mercury is at inferior conjunction today (between the Earth the Sun).
8 Neptune reaches conjunction. The planet will return to our morning skies in April.
11 Mercury reaches greatest elongation west, at 27.8°. The next four weeks are a good time to see this planet in the morning sky.
13 The Gamma Normid meteor shower will peak this morning, but will be Moon affected.
18–19 Look for the Moon, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn relatively close together in Sagittarius.
20 Today is the southern autumnal equinox.
20–21 Mars and Jupiter will be about 1° apart.
25 Venus reaches greatest elongation east, at 46.1°.
31 Mars and Saturn are about 1° apart.
3 Turn to the north after it gets dark, and you’ll see Venus mingling with the stars of the Pleiades cluster.
26 Uranus reaches conjunction. The planet will return to our morning skies in May.
4 Mercury at super conjunction today.
6 The Eta Aquarid meteor shower peaks this morning. Expect to see around 10–12 meteors per hour from a dark viewing site.
15 Jupiter and Saturn are within 5° of each other all month long.
22 Venus and Mercury will be 1° apart, low on the western horizon during dusk.
24 Venus, Mercury and the Moon will be within about 4° of each other at dusk.
4 Venus is at inferior conjunction today.
4 Mercury reaches greatest elongation east, at 23.6°.
6 Penumbral lunar eclipse — see eclipse box below.
8 Jupiter and the Moon will be close together.
21 Partial solar eclipse — see box above.
21 Today is the southern winter solstice — hours of daylight are shortest.
1 Mercury is at inferior conjunction today.
1–14 Venus, in the eastern morning sky, passes in front of the Hyades star cluster in Taurus.
14 Jupiter reaches opposition today, with the giant planet shining at magnitude –2.8 and spanning 47.6 arcseconds.
16 Pluto reaches opposition today. The once-ninth planet will be a dim magnitude 14.5 and just 0.1 arcseconds in diameter.
21 Saturn reaches opposition today. The ringed world will be magnitude 0.1 and 18.5 arcseconds in diameter.
23 Mercury reaches greatest elongation west, at 20.1°.
29 The Alpha Capricornid meteor shower peaks this morning.
30 The Southern Delta Aquarid meteor shower peaks early this morning.
1 The Moon, Jupiter and Saturn will form a straight line.
2 The Moon will be seen in between Jupiter and Saturn.
13 Venus reaches greatest elongation west, 45.8°.
18 Mercury at super conjunction today.
28 The Moon, Jupiter and Saturn will form a straight line again.
29 And again, the Moon will be seen between Jupiter and Saturn.
12 Neptune reaches opposition today. The bluish planet will be magnitude 7.8 and a tiny 2.4 arcseconds in diameter.
19 The Moon, Mercury and the star Spica form a triangle.
23 Today is the southern spring equinox.
26 The Moon, Jupiter and Saturn will form a straight line.
2 Mercury reaches greatest elongation east, at 25.8°.
7 Mars makes its closest approach to Earth this year, at 62.07 million kilometres.
10 The Southern Taurid meteor shower peaks this morning.
14 Mars reaches opposition today, shining at magnitude –2.6 and with a diameter of 22.3 arcseconds. This is the best time of the year to see the Red Planet through a telescope. In fact, this will be the best opposition (in terms of Mars’ apparent size, greater than 20 arcseconds) until the year 2033.
16 & 22 The Orionid meteor shower will have peaks on these two days, when you can expect to see perhaps 25–30 meteors per hour from a dark site.
25 Mercury is at inferior conjunction today.
1–30 Watch as Jupiter and Saturn move closer together, in preparation for a big get-together next month.
1 Uranus reaches opposition today. It will be magnitude 5.7 and 3.8 arcseconds in diameter.
11 Mercury reaches greatest elongation west, at 19.1°, but will remain essentially unviewable low on the horizon.
12 The Northern Taurid meteor shower peaks this morning, with up to 15 meteors per hour visible.
30 Penumbral lunar eclipse — see eclipse box above.
14 The Geminids peak this morning. With the Moon out of the way, you can expect to see many dozens of meteors per hour from a dark site.
20 Mercury is at superior conjunction today. It will reappear in the evening sky at the end of the month.
21 Today is the southern summer solstice — hours of daylight are longest.
21–22 Jupiter and Saturn will have a close conjunction; only 6 arcminutes apart. To the naked eye they’ll almost look like a single, very bright planet.
Keep up to date with more celestial events as they happen during the year, with a print or digital subscription to Australian Sky & Telescope magazine.
Stargazers image courtesy ESO. Moon image courtesy Rain0975/Flickr.