The last year had plenty in store for astronomy that kept our eyes upward, from the Artemis 1 mission to a total lunar eclipse and photos from the James Webb Telescope. And as the Earth begins its next loop around the sun, a new set of events lines up for our viewing.
James Albury heads the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium at Santa Fe College. He’s been involved in astronomy for decades, serving as past president of the Southeastern Planetarium Association and maintaining The Sky Above Us website. He listed the following as events to watch out for in 2023.
All will be visible to the naked eye, but you’ll want some special glasses for the solar eclipse coming late this year. More on that below.
But first, conjunctions, occultations and meteor showers.
When celestial bodies move closer and closer together from the Earth’s perspective, the bodies are in conjunction, Albury explained. That conjunction turns into an appulse when the bodies reach their closest point to each other.
Albury highlights a pairing of Venus and Saturn that will take place on Jan. 22.
Venus will begin appearing in the evening sky. Albury said that the planet remains close to the sun, but in the coming weeks Venus will move further away and become easier to see.
A little while later, Venus will feature in a second appulse with Jupiter on March 2. Even during the day, you’ll be able to spot the two planets close together, starting in the early evening in the southwest.
“They’ll be so close that you’ll actually be able to see them in the same telescopic field of view,” Albury said, noting that another close pairing of these two planets happened in April of this year.
With appulses, objects close in on each other and move away. Occultations occur when one object hides the other by moving in front of it from our perspective.
Mars will hide behind the moon on Jan. 30 and Jupiter will do the same on May 17.
Jupiter’s occultation will happen during the daytime. With planets visible during the day, Albury said North Central Florida can still see the event.
He said to look for the moon which will be in the Southeastern sky and then search for Jupiter coming close. The event will happen in the morning.
Meteor showers occur when Earth impacts pieces of comets left behind, and you’ll have plenty of opportunities to watch them. Each shower below links with the constellation that will be overhead when the shower happens.
Albury said midnight to sunrise will be the prime time to look, with more coming toward sunrise.
“The closer we are to sunrise the more meteors you’re likely to see because the constellation where the meteors are appearing to radiate from, which we call the radiant, is almost overhead at that point,” Albury explained.
Here are when this year’s meteor showers will peak:
- Quadrantids peak Jan. 3
- Lyrids peak April 22
- Capricornids peak July 30
- Perseids peak on Aug. 13
- Draconids peak on Oct. 9
- Orionids peak on Oct. 21
- Leonids peak on Nov. 18
- Geminids peak on Dec. 14
Albury notes that the first shower of the year, the Quadrantids, might be affected by the Moon this year.
“That’s usually a very good meteor shower because we’re at our closest point to the sun on that day,” Albury said. “However, the brightness of the Moon that morning will wash out the fainter meteors.
He said to look for the Lyrids, Perseids or Leonids this year.
Gainesville will miss lunar eclipses this year because of positioning, and we saw the last total lunar eclipse in November 2022. The next total lunar eclipse won’t occur in the Gainesville area until 2025.
However, North Central Florida and most of the country will see a partial solar eclipse on Oct. 14. Albury said the planetarium will hold an event that day.
Viewers will need special eclipse glasses to safely see the alignment. Those are available online.
The next total solar eclipse for the United States will happen April 8, 2024, traveling from Central Texas to Vermont, Albury said.
If you want to learn more about astronomy, Albury will teach two community education classes in February and April on the constellations and the moon.
“Our Wonderful Moon” is a one-day course on Saturday, Feb. 18. “Learning the Constellations” will happen over two Saturdays, April 15 and 22, from 10 a.m. to noon.
Learn more about the courses at Santa Fe’s Community Education website.