Top astronomy events to get excited for in 2022
Stargazers will have plenty to look for in the night sky throughout the new year, including an alignment of five planets and a pair of total lunar eclipses.
With the new year approaching, here are some of the top astronomy events of 2022 to mark down on your calendar. Start planning your stargazing trips now.
Intriguing planetary alignments and captivating lunar eclipses are just a few of the astronomical events on the docket for 2022, and many of these celestial happenings will be visible from the heart of New York City to the darkest corners of the American West.
The only requirement to enjoy the heavenly light shows will be cloud-free weather, although having a telescope and cup of coffee could be helpful for some as the biggest planetary alignments will take place late in the night just before daybreak.
Stargazers will want to circle these dates on their calendars so they don't miss out on the top astronomy events of 2022.
Late March: Trio of planets bunch together
It will be a quiet start to the new year in terms of astronomical happenings, but good things come to those who wait as three planets gather in the early morning sky toward the end of March.
Mars, Saturn and Venus will appear extremely close before sunrise during the last two weeks of March. The trio will be so close that they will be in the same field of view of some telescopes and binoculars.
Planets are not to scale. The rings of Saturn cannot be seen without a telescope.
The show will continue after the calendar turns to April with Mars and Saturn appearing extremely close on the mornings of April 4 and April 5, nearly overlapping while Venus shines nearby.
April 21-22: Lyrid meteor shower
April is global astronomy month, and folks looking to celebrate the night sky can do so on April 21 into April 22 during the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower.
This will be the first meteor shower to peak in over three months, ending a lengthy meteor shower drought, and producing around 15 shooting stars per hour.
The Lyrids will be followed up by the eta Aquarids less than two weeks later, a meteor shower that can offer between 20 and 40 meteors per hour on the night of May 4 into May 5. This is also the best meteor shower of the year for the Southern Hemisphere.
April 30: Black moon
The third big astronomical event of the year is the only one that cannot be seen, even with the help of a telescope.
The term 'blue moon' has become popularized in recent years to describe the second full moon in a calendar month, even though the moon does not turn blue in color.
April's 'black moon' is the counterpart to the blue moon, used to describe the second new moon of the month. New moons cannot be observed, as it is the time when the illuminated side of the moon is facing away from the Earth.
Although the black moon cannot be spotted in the sky, this is a good time of the month for stargazing as there is no natural light pollution from the moon, giving skywatchers darker views of the cosmos.
May 15-16: Total Lunar Eclipse
The moon will turn red during the night of May 15 into May 16 as the entire contiguous United States will get to witness the moon passing through Earth's shadow -- as long as the weather cooperates.
There was an impressive partial lunar eclipse this past November when 97% of the moon fell dark, but it was a sliver short of being considered a total eclipse. There was also a total lunar eclipse in May of 2021, but that eclipse was only briefly visible for parts of the West Coast.
Light shines from a total lunar eclipse over Santa Monica Beach in Santa Monica, Calif., Wednesday, May 26, 2021. The first total lunar eclipse in more than two years is coinciding with a supermoon for quite a cosmic show. (AP Photo/Ringo H.W. Chiu)
May's eclipse will be the first of two that will be visible over the U.S. this year, although the second lunar eclipse will not be visible across all of North America and could take place on a chilly night.
June 14: 1st supermoon of 2022 to rise
A trio of supermoons is in the offing in 2022, and the first will glow in the middle of June.
Supermoons occur when there is a full moon near perigee, or the point in the moon's orbit when it is closest to the Earth. The result is a full moon that is slightly bigger and brighter than others throughout the year, although the difference can be difficult to notice.
June's supermoon will be followed up by an encore on July 13 and a third on Aug. 12.
June 24: Planets align in order
Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn are all bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, and they will align in order before sunrise near the end of June.
The rare alignment will appear just before sunrise on June 24 across the eastern sky. The crescent moon will also be in line with the planets, shining between Venus and Mars.
Although the planets will appear to be in a line in the sky, they will not be lined up perfectly in the solar system. This is just how they will appear from the perspective of the Earth.
Aug. 12-13: Perseid meteor shower
One of the most popular annual meteor showers peaks on a summer night, but this year the event will have some competition.
Under ideal conditions, the Perseids can put on a dazzling performance with 50 to 100 shooting stars per hour, but hourly rates could be cut in half this year as the event peaks the night after a bright supermoon. Some meteors should be visible despite the moonlit sky, but the moonlight will wash out many of the dimmer meteors.
A meteor streaks over Joshua Tree National Park during the Perseid meteor shower. (NPS/Brad Sutton)
The Orionids peak two months later, and while less active than the Perseids, they could be worth watching as the moon will not be shining all night long. Skywatchers enjoying the Orionids on the night of Oct. 20-21 could count around 20 meteors per hour.
Sept. 26: Jupiter Opposition
The first nights of astronomical autumn will bring the perfect opportunities to spot Jupiter in the night sky as the largest planet in the solar system reaches “opposition.” Opposition is an astronomical term meaning that the planet appears opposite of the sun from the perspective of the Earth.
This is the best time of 2022 to see Jupiter as it is around the point in its orbit when it is closest to the Earth, making it appear brighter than any other time of the year.
No telescope is required to spot the planet, but it is an easy and interesting target for people getting familiar with how to use a new telescope. Jupiter is easy to find with a telescope, and the magnification offered by even the simplest of telescopes is enough to see the planet’s four largest moons: Europa, IO, Callisto and Ganymede.
Nov. 8: Total Lunar Eclipse
The second and final total lunar eclipse of 2022 will take place before sunrise on Nov. 8, although not all of North America will be able to witness the moon turn red.
East Coast observers will miss out on the total phase of the eclipse as the moon will set just before the height of the eclipse. The balance of Canada and the U.S. will be able to enjoy the show, weather permitting, including Alaska and Hawaii.
This combination photo shows the moon at the four different moments during a total lunar eclipse in Brasilia, Brazil, Monday, Jan. 21, 2019. It's also the year's first supermoon, when a full moon appears a little bigger and brighter thanks to its slightly closer position to Earth. (AP Photo/Eraldo Peres)
After November's eclipse, people across North America will not have the chance to view a total lunar eclipse from their neighborhood until March 14, 2025.
Nov. 11-12: Fireballs to flash in autumn sky
The Northern Taurid meteor shower in mid-November is typically a minor meteor shower that often goes unnoticed, but this year might be a year to view the event.
Most years, the Northern Taurids only produce around five meteors per hour, a far reach from the hourly rates during the popular Perseids or the December Geminids. However, the Northern Taurids will bring some added intrigue in 2022.
The meteor shower, which peaks on the night of Nov. 11 into the early hours of Nov. 12, is known for bringing incredibly bright fireballs that illuminate the entire sky for a few seconds.
“There seems to be a seven year periodicity with these fireballs. 2008 and 2015 both produced remarkable fireball activity,” the American Meteor Society explained on its website. “2022 may be the next opportunity.”
Dec. 8: Mars opposition
One of Earth's closest neighbors will become a prominent feature in the night sky during the second half of 2022, eventually reaching peak brightness in early December as it reaches opposition.
The Mars opposition is when the Red Planet is opposite of the sun from the perspective of the Earth. As a result, it is visible all night long and shines brighter than most stars in the sky.
Mars only reaches opposition once every 26 months; beyond 2022, it will not happen again until Jan. 15, 2025. These close encounters are also the best opportunities for space agencies like NASA to launch missions to Mars.
Dec. 13-14: Geminid meteor shower
One of the most anticipated annual meteor showers will also be one of the final astronomy events of the year when the Geminids peak during the second full week of December.
Under ideal conditions, the Geminids can offer over 100 meteors per hour, but the nearly full moon will once again contest the shower. A similar story unfolded for the 2021 rendition of the Geminids with a bright moon reducing rates to 30 to 40 meteors per hour.
The evening could turn out to be the best time to view this year's event before the moon rises between 10 p.m. and 11 p.m. local time. However, the meteor shower will be active all night with shooting stars mainly visible in darker areas of the sky where the moon is out of sight.
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