Today is the start of a new season. For sky watchers, it promises to be something special.
Today is the fall equinox, when the midday sun is directly above the equator, giving every place on the planet 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. The Sun will rise to the east, follow an arc along the celestial equator and set to the west.
When the leaves fall, the bright stars rise. Orion returns. The Moon hangs a little higher. In addition to being a fabulous time of year for stargazing, there are six specific stargazing events not to be missed. So grab your coat and let’s go into the night.
Here’s exactly what’s happening in the day and night skies this fall:
1. Jupiter to its closest in 166 years
When: September 26, 2022
On this date the giant planet Jupiter will travel to the annual “opposition”, the point in Earth’s orbit where we, on a much faster orbiting world, will move exactly to a position between the Sun and Jupiter.
It will be exactly 593.6 million kilometers from Earth in its moment of opposition, which is its closest approach to Earth from 1963 and through to 2139, making this the “best” opposition in 166 years and a once in a lifetime opportunity. It will glow at a magnitude of -2.9, making it the brightest thing you can currently see in the post-sunset night sky aside from the Moon.
2. Orionid meteor shower
When: 21/22 October 2022
From around 9pm tonight and early tomorrow is the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. So keep your eyes peeled (no binoculars or telescopes needed) for its 10-20 “shooting stars” per hour, which should be visible in moonless dark skies as the crescent moon will only be 17% illuminated and won’t rise until until around 3:30 am However, the view should be better after midnight.
The Orionid meteor shower is caused by the dust and debris left in the inner Solar System by none other than Halley’s Comet. Although they can appear from anywhere, the radiant point of the meteors is the constellation of Orion and in particular its red star Betelgeuse.
3. The partial solar eclipse of Eurasia
When: 25 October 2022
Today’s partial solar eclipse is the second and last such event in 2022, the other being on April 30th. It will be visible from Europe, Northeast Africa and Central Asia. At its peak in Russia precisely 82% of the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon. From Western Europe it will appear eclipsed by about 15-30%.
4. A “blood moon” for America
When: November 8, 2022
The last of two total lunar eclipses in 2022 will be visible from North America, but for the last time until 2025. Most readily visible from the western and central states of the United States, as well as from the Pacific, Japan, Australia and Russia, during the The entire “Beaver Moon” event will take on a spectacular reddish color for 84 minutes.
It will not be exceeded until a total of 102 minutes on June 26, 2029. Here’s a simulation of what it will look like. You should also be able to see the planet Uranus just above the eclipsed Moon, which will add to the show.
5. Mars is the brightest in 26 months
When: December 7, 2022
Tonight he also sees the fourth planet, Mars, reaching its “opposition” every 26 months. He marks the point where the Earth is between the Sun and Mars, so the planet is completely illuminated by the Sun from our point of view. Consequently it is the brightest time of the year, hence the best time to watch it. As a bonus it also means that it rises in the east at sunset and stays in the night sky all night.
6. An eclipse of Mars from a “cold moon”
When: December 8, 2022
The Moon occultes a planet a few times a year, seen somewhere on Earth. But a full moon that eclipses Mars near its brightest every 26 months? This is a rare set of circumstances. This is exactly what happens on December 8, 2022. It is not something you want to lose.
I wish you clear skis and eyes wide open.