Today is the start of a new season. For sky lovers, it promises to be something special.
Today is the Autumnal Equinox, 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 to the right along the celestial equator, and set in the west.
As the leaves fall, bright stars rise. Orion returns. The moon hangs a little higher. In addition to this being a fantastic time of year for stargazing, there are six specific stargazing events you can’t miss. 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 closest in 166 years
On this date, the giant planet Jupiter will come to its annual “opposition,” the point in Earth’s orbit when we—on a much faster spinning world—move into a position right between the Sun and Jupiter.
It will be exactly 593.6 million kilometers from Earth at the time of its opposition, which it is its closest approach to Earth since 1963 and to 2139, making this the “best” opposition in 166 years and a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It will shine at magnitude -2.9, making it the brightest you can currently see in the night sky after sunset other than the Moon.
2. Orionid meteor shower
From tonight around 9:00 PM until the early hours of tomorrow is the peak of the Orionid meteor shower. So keep your eyes peeled (no binoculars or telescope required) for its 10-20 “shooting stars” per hour, which should be visible in a dark, moonless sky, as the waning crescent moon will only be 17% illuminated and won’t rise until around 3:30 am. However, the view should be best after midnight.
The Orionid meteor shower is caused by dust and debris left by none other than Halley’s Comet in the inner solar system. Although they can appear from anywhere, the focal point for meteors is the constellation Orion, especially its red star Betelgeuse.
3. Eurasian partial solar eclipse
Today’s partial solar eclipse is the second and last such event in 2022, the second being last April 30. It will be visible from Europe, Northeast Africa and Central Asia. At the maximum point in Russia exactly 82% of the Sun will be eclipsed by the Moon. From Western Europe it will look about 15-30% eclipsed.
4. ‘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. Easiest to see from the western and central US states, as well as the Pacific, Japan, Australia and Russia, during the full event the “Beaver Moon” will receive a spectacular reddish color in 84 minutes.
It will not be on top until a total of 102 minutes on June 26, 2029. Here is the simulation what will it look like. You should also be able to see the planet Uranus directly above the eclipsed Moon, adding to the spectacle.
5. Mars is at its brightest in the last 26 months
When: December 7, 2022
Tonight, the fourth planet, Mars, will reach its “opposition” once every 26 months. It marks the point when the Earth is between the Sun and Mars, so the planet is fully illuminated by the Sun from our point of view. Therefore, it is the brightest of the year, so it is the best time to look at it. As a bonus it also means it rises in the east at dusk and stays in the night sky all night.
6. Eclipse of Mars by ‘Cold Moon’
When: December 8, 2022
The moon eclipses the planet several times each year, as seen from somewhere on Earth. But a full Moon that eclipses Mars near its brightest once every 26 months? It’s a rare set of circumstances. That’s exactly what’s happening on December 8, 2022. It’s not something you want to miss.
I wish you clear skies and wide eyes.