By: Joe Rao
In general, 2013 promises an action-packed 12 months for stargazers. Hopefully, your local weather will cooperate on most, if not all of these dates. The following list below includes some of the most promising night sky events of the upcoming year!
Jan. 21: Very Close Moon/Jupiter Conjunction
For North Americans, this is a real head-turner, one easily visible even from brightly lit cities. A waxing gibbous moon, 78-percent illuminated, will pass within less than a degree to the south of Jupiter, the largest planet in our solar system. (For reference, your closed fist held out at arm’s length covers 10 degrees of the sky.)
These two bright luminaries will make their closest approach high in the evening sky for all to see. What’s even more interesting is that this will be the closest moon-Jupiter conjunction until the year 2026!
Feb. 2 to 23: Best Evening View of Mercury
Mercury, the “elusive” innermost planet, will travel far enough from the glare of the sun to be readily visible in the western sky, soon after sunset. On the evening of Feb. 8, Mercury will skim within less than 0.4 degrees of the much-fainter planet, Mars.
Mercury will arrive at its greatest elongation from the sun on Feb.16. It will be quite bright (-1.2 to -0.6 magnitude) before this date and will fade rapidly to +1.2 magnitude thereafter. (Astronomers measure the brightness of sky objects using magnitude, a reverse scale in which lower numbers correspond to brighter objects. Negative magnitudes denote exceptional brightness.)
March 10 to 24: Comet PANSTARRS at Its Best!
Comet PANSTARRS, discovered in June 2011 using the Pan-STARRS 1 Telescope at Haleakala, Hawaii, is expected to put on its best show during this two-week period. During this time, the comet will also be near its closest approaches to the sun (28 million miles, or 45 million kilometers) and Earth (102 million miles, or 164 million km).
While Comet PANSTARRS was a very dim and distant object at the time of its discovery, it has brightened steadily since then. It still appears on target to reach at least first magnitude and should be visible low in the west-northwest sky shortly after sunset. On the evening of March 12, the comet will be situated 4 degrees to the right of an exceedingly thin crescent moon.
April 25: Partial Lunar Eclipse
This will be a very minor partial lunar eclipse, with the moon’s uppermost limb merely grazing the Earth’s dark, umbral shadow. At mid-eclipse, less than 2 percent of the moon’s diameter will be inside the dark shadow. The Eastern Hemisphere (Europe, Africa, Australia and most of Asia) will have the best view.
This lunar eclipse will not be visible from North America.