We have just had the Winter solstice (Summer solstice in the southern hemisphere) and, as 2022 draws to a close, we thought it would be interesting to let you know of some astronomy events to look forward to in the upcoming year ahead.
Equinoxes and Solstices
The Earth’s seasons change on four specific days each year. We have two solstices where the Sun appears to be at its lowest and highest points in the sky (December and June respectively) and two equinoxes where the length of day and night are similar (April and September).
As we have just had our winter solstice in the northern hemisphere, we thought we would start off with the equinox and solstice dates for 2023.
- March 20 - Spring Equinox: Occurs at 21:24 GMT and is the first day of spring in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of autumn in the Southern Hemisphere (autumnal equinox).
- June 21 - Summer Solstice: Will take place at 21:24 GMT and is the first day of summer for us in the Northern Hemisphere. It is the first day of winter (winter solstice) in the Southern Hemisphere.
- September 23 - Autumnal Equinox: at 06:50 GMT is the first day of autumn in the Northern Hemisphere and the first day of spring (vernal equinox) in the Southern Hemisphere.
- December 22 - Winter Solstice: occurs at 03:27 GMT. For us in the northern hemisphere it is the first day of winter and the first day of summer (summer solstice) for those in the Southern Hemisphere.
The sky at start of 2023
As the clocks chime at midnight and we welcome in 2023, our night sky will appear as in the simulation below (from Stellarium – minus the constellation names and lines of course!).
High above us will be the constellations of Auriga, Gemini and Taurus, in which Mars currently resides. These constellations have a number of star clusters which are nice targets with binoculars such as the Pleiades and Hyades in Taurus and Messiers 36,37 and 38 in Auriga.
A little lower in altitude and just west of the meridian is the magnificent constellation of Orion the Hunter, still well placed for observing the celestial splendour that is Messier 42 – the great Orion nebula, a place of star birth. Towards the south will be the constellation of Canis Major with the brightest star in our sky (excluding our Sun), Sirius shining at magnitude -1.3.
Towards the east lies the start of the spring constellations of Cancer with Messier 44 (Praesepe) open cluster (another good binocular target), Leo which has the “Leo Triplet” of galaxies Messier 65, 66 and NGC3628 (a telescope target), Coma Berenices and Bootes all of which will start to take pride of place in the evening sky in a few months.
Meteor shower displays
Meteor showers are always fun to watch as we don’t know exactly how active the display will be – they certainly keep us on the edge of our seats. Also, you don’t need any special astronomy equipment such as a telescope or binocular – you just need your eyes! However, its a good idea to have chair to sit on or a recliner/sun lounger so you can lie back to see a lot of the sky comfortably as you may be outside for a long while! It can also be cold so you could also get yourself under a duvet or inside sleeping bag to keep warm – just don’t get too comfy though and fall asleep and miss the meteor shower above you! Find out more in Celestron’s guide to observing meteor showers.
If you want to take photographs of the display to try and capture meteors as they streak across the sky, a camera set on a long(ish) exposure with a wide angle lens, mounted on a sturdy tripod such as the Baader Astro & Nature Photo Tripod w. Fluid Head and quick mounting plate (#2451020 , € 235,-) is all you need. For more details on imaging meteor showers a good introductory guide can be found here.
Below are the dates of the peak dates for favourable (where the Moon will not interfere too much) meteor showers in 2023.
- April 22, 23: Lyrids. A thin crescent moon will set early in the evening so will not interfere.
- August 12, 13: Perseids. A waning crescent moon should not be too much of a problem this year making fainter meteors easier to see.
- October 7: Draconids. A second quarter moon will dark skies in the early evening for what should be a good show.
- October 21, 22: Orionids. This meteor shower is produced by dust left behind by the famous Halley’s comet. A first quarter moon sets before midnight leaving dark skies for the main time for observing the shower during the early hours.
- November 17, 18: Leonids. A waxing crescent moon will set before midnight leaving dark skies for what should be a great early morning show.
- December 13, 14: Geminids. This meteor shower is often considered to be the king of the meteor showers. A nearly new moon means dark skies for what could be an excellent display.
For more details on meteor showers see e.g. American Meteor Society Meteor Shower Calendar.
Our Moon will make its regular appearance in our night sky through 2023 where it will present its waxing and waning phases.
The Moon is a great celestial target for beginners and well-seasoned astronomers alike. Binoculars such as the popular Celestron 15x70 SkyMaster, which have 15x magnification and 70mm aperture objective, are still relatively light-weight to be hand held, will show many surface features in detail compared to the naked eye. Even through a small starter telescope the views can be impressive with many craters, mountain rangers and “seas” being easily visible.
The Moon’s brightness can be overpowering and the use of a variable polarizer (which varies the amount of light entering the eyepiece) or a selection of neutral density filters can all help cut down the brightness and make observing the Moon more comfortable. A popular time for observing the Moon is when its not at or around its full phase as the Moon, Earth and Sun are in line so very little shadows are cast meaning Lunar detail is not as contrasty (and the Moon is very bright too).
The dates for the main phases of the Moon can be found here for the city of Munich for the year ahead.
Viewing or imaging the Sun requires extreme care and the use of proper, safe solar filters. For white-light views, you can observe the dark sunspots, faculae and solar granulation, Baader Planetarium offer their AstroSolar film so you can make your own Solar filter. Alternatively, there are ready-made AstroSolar filters which use their AstroSolar film but fitted in a specially designed robust metal housing for use with small camera lenses up to larger aperture telescopes. You can find more about their Solar products here.
To find the latest views of our Sun and how active it is, a good resource is the GONG near-real time data website which displays images of the Sun from a number of Solar observatories around the world in different wavelengths.
As celebrate the start of 2023, Mars will be the only planet to view as Jupiter and Saturn will have set before midnight, but all these planets are visible after sunset.
To see or image any planet in any detail you need a telescope. There is a very wide selection to choose from to suit all budgets from manually operated to fully computerised/GoTo instruments. For planetary and Lunar observers, a refractor, Maksutov Cassegrain or Schmidt Cassegrain optical design are popular choices which are available on different types of mount. Given the large choice of telescopes, if planetary study is of interest to you and if you need any advice on what to choose, contact one of our helpful authorised dealers or ourselves.
Colored filters can be beneficial with planetary observing. They can help increase the contrast of features through selective filtration. For example, a red filter can be ideal to help observe features on the red martian surface and the use of a yellow filter can help enhance cloud bands on Jupiter and Saturn.
The color and planetary filters from Baader Planetarium are planeoptically polished and coated so that they do not impair the image quality even at the high magnifications required for planetary observation. The filters with the colors (blue, light blue, green, yellow, red, orange) are available individually or as a set.
A useful guide for observing the planets (and Moon) with filters can be found in Celestron’s “What are the different types of eyepiece filters: Colored, Neutral Density and Polarizing?” article, or on the Association of Lunar and Planetary Observers (ALPO) website.
For those interested in the planets and Moon, below are a few selected planetary events for you to put into your astronomical calendar:
- January 30 - Mercury will be at Greatest Western Elongation in the eastern morning sky just before sunrise with a 58% phase at magnitude.
- February 1 – Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) reaches its brightest at approx. mag. 5.
- February 22 – Crescent waxing Moon, Venus and Jupiter make a nice triangular pairing after sunset in the west.
- February 27,28 – First quarter Moon near Mars during these two evenings.
- March 2 – Close approach of Venus and Jupiter. These two planets will be just around half a degree apart after sunset.
- March 24 – Crescent Moon and Venus close approach in evening sky.
- March 28 – Moon and Mars close approach in evening sky.
- March 30 – Venus and Uranus near each other in evening sky.
- April 11 - Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation low in the evening sky just after sunset.
- April 23 – Close approach and conjunction of Moon and Venus.
- May 23 - Moon and Venus conjunction and close approach.
- May 24 – Moon and Mars conjunction and close approach.
- May 29 - Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation low above the horizon in the east in the morning sky before sunrise.
- June 4 - Venus at dichotomy and at Greatest Eastern Elongation in the western sky after sunset.
- June 10 – Mercury at highest altitude in morning sky.
- July 9 – Venus at greatest brightness at magnitude -4.5 in the evening sky.
- August 10 - Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation low in the western sky just after sunset.
- August 27 - Saturn will be at Opposition and will be at its closest to Earth. A telescope will allow you to see Saturn's rings and a few of its brightest moons.
- September 19 - Neptune at Opposition and visible all night long. Due to its distance from the Earth, it will only appear as a tiny blue dot in even in large telescopes.
- September 22 - Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.
- October 23 - Venus at Greatest Western Elongation in the eastern sky before sunrise.
- November 3 - Jupiter will be opposition and closest to our Earth so will be the best time to view and photograph Jupiter and its moons.
- November 9 – Lunar (waning crescent) occultation of Venus in daytime SW sky (at approx. 1100CET – 1213CET).
- November 13 - Uranus at Opposition. Although this blue-green planet will be at its closest approach to Earth due to its distance, it will only appear as a tiny blue-green dot.
- December 4 - Mercury at Greatest Eastern Elongation and will be low in the western sky just after sunset.
We have some Solar and Lunar eclipses this year. Of these events, the partial Lunar eclipse on October 28th that will be visible from Germany and the rest of Europe and will be the main event to view and image. For completeness, however, we have listed the other eclipse events just in case you want to travel to see them.
- April 20 - Hybrid Solar Eclipse. The eclipse will begin in the southern Indian Ocean and move across parts of western Australia and southern Indonesia. A partial eclipse will be visible throughout most of Indonesia, Australia, northern New Zealand and Antarctica
- May 5-6 - Penumbral Lunar Eclipse. Will be visible throughout Asia, Australia parts of eastern Europe. However, with this type of eclipse, the Moon will darken just slightly but not completely as in a total Lunar eclipse.
- October 14 - Annular Solar Eclipse. The eclipse will begin in the Pacific Ocean off the coast of southern Canada and then across southwestern USA, central America and Brazil. North and South America will see a partial eclipse.
- October 28-29 - Partial Lunar Eclipse. A part of the Moon will darken as it moves through the Earth's shadow and will be visible throughout all of Europe, Asia, and Africa, and west Australia.
If you are travelling to see one of the Solar eclipses please always be aware of safety when observing or imaging the Sun. Please contact one of our helpful authorised dealers or ourselves if you have any questions about safely observing these events.
A guide to eclipses in 2023 can be found on the Time and Date website.
So as 2022 closes, our dealers and our team would like to wish you clear skies, happy observing and/or imaging and all the very best for the new year.
About the author: Lee Sproats
Dr. Lee Sproats has been interested in astronomy since watching Star Wars in 1977 and has appeared on the UK Sky at Night TV programme. He then went on to study Astronomy where he obtained a degree and then a PhD in the subject at University College London/Mullard Space Science Laboratory. He has worked in Australia in radio astronomy and used optical/infrared telescopes on Hawaii and La Palma and Lowell and Kitt Peak observatories in the USA. After working for the University of Surrey to promote the use of computers for teaching in UK higher education and then as an IT trainer for a stock market company, he went on to work for Greenwich Observatory Ltd where he ran their northern branch and then worked for David Hinds Ltd dealing with our and Celestron products. He is often involved in flight excursions that take passengers to observe the northern lights, has led trips to see the great USA 2017 eclipse near Hopkinsville and was lead astronomer onboard a specially chartered 737 to view the 2015 total solar eclipse at 38,000ft. Lee`s astronomical interests include Lunar observing, astrophotography, photometry and pro-am collaborations.
Since David Hinds stopped operation in December 2020, Dr. Sproats works for Baader Planetarium as our UK representative/consultant and is responsible for looking after our UK/Eire dealers, dealing with Baader Planetarium/PlaneWave/10Micron product support, writing articles and also is involved in our large telescope and observatory instrumentation projects.