Today is the beginning of a new season. For sky-gazers it promises to be something special.
It’s fall equinox today, when the midday Sun is directly above the equator, giving every location on the planet 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of darkness. The Sun will rise due east, follow an arc right along the celestial equator and set due west.
As the leaves fall the bright stars rise. Orion returns. The Moon hangs a little higher. As well as it being a fabulous time of year to stargaze there are six specific stargazing events not to miss. So grab your coat and off we go into the night.
Here’s exactly what’s going on in the day and night-time skies this fall:
1. Jupiter at its closest in 166 years
When: September 26, 2022
On this date the giant planet Jupiter will come to it annual “opposition,” the point in Earth’s orbit when we—on a much faster orbiting world—move into a position precisely between the Sun and Jupiter.
It will be exactly 593.6 million kilometers from Earth at its moment of opposition, which is its closest approach to Earth since 1963 and until 2139, making this the “best” opposition in 166 years and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will shine at a magnitude of -2.9, making it the brightest thing you can currently see in the post-sunset night sky apart from the Moon.
2. Orionid meteor shower
When: October 21/22, 2022
From about 21:00 tonight and into the early hours of tomorrow is the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. So keep your eyes peeled (no binoculars or telescope necessary) for its 10-20 “shooting stars” per hour, which should be visible in dark moonless skies since the waning crescent Moon will be just 17%-lit and won’t rise until about 3:30 a.m. However, the view should be best after midnight.
The Orionid meteor shower is caused by dust and debris being left in the inner Solar System by none other than Halley’s Comet. Although they can appear from anywhere the radiant point for the meteors is the constellation of Orion and specifically its red star Betelgeuse.
3. Eurasia’s partial solar eclipse
When: October 25, 2022
Today’s partial solar eclipse is the second and final such event in 2022, the other being last April 30. It will be visible from Europe, northeast Africa and central Asia. At its maximum point in Russia precisely 82% of the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon. From Western Europe it will appear around 15-30% eclipsed.
4. A ‘Blood Moon’ for America
When: November 8, 2022
The final of two total lunar eclipses in 2022 will be visible from North America, but for the last time until 2025. Most easily seen from western and central U.S. states as well as from the Pacific, Japan, Australia and Russia, during the event the full “Beaver Moon” will turn a spectacular reddish color for 84 minutes.
It won’t be topped until a 102 minute totality 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 spectacle.
5. Mars its brightest for 26 months
When: December 7, 2022
Tonight also sees the fourth planet, Mars, reach its once-every-26 months “opposition.” It marks the point when Earth is between the Sun and Mars, so the planet is fully illuminated by the Sun from our point of view. It’s consequently at its brightest of the year, so the best time to look at it. As a bonus it also means it rises in the east at dusk and remains in the night sky all night long.
6. An eclipse of Mars by a ‘Cold Moon’
When: December 8, 2022
The Moon occults a planet a few times each year, as seen from somewhere on Earth. But a full Moon eclipsing Mars close to its once-every-26 months brightest? Now that’s a rare set of circumstances. That’s exactly what happens on December 8, 2022. It’s not something you want to miss.
Wishing you clear skies and wide eyes.