Astronomy lovers have no time to waste. 2023 begins with a flyby of comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF), which is currently traversing the inner solar system and will pass Earth on February 1st. It is very likely that this celestial object will glow enough to be visible to the naked eye during January.
Another asteroid relatively close to us has a small chance of colliding with the Earth, or at least with our atmosphere. Asteroid 2016 LP10 has been in the spotlight of astronomers for several years now. It is on the European Space Agency’s “hazard list” and the chance of it colliding with Earth on June 10 is about one in nine thousand. There is little cause for concern, however, as it is estimated to be only four meters in diameter and is expected to burn out almost completely before reaching the surface.
Sun instability is likely to have a real impact in 2023. Our star will spend the entire year continuing its march towards maximum sunspot activity over a roughly 11-year cycle. This peak is likely to be reached around 2025, but we have already observed a number of sunspots, which are areas of energy instability on the surface of the Sun that cause solar flares in our direction. This often interferes with radio signals, satellites, and even the power grid. The good news for astronomers is that they are also boosting auroral activity, making 2023 the best year to see the northern and southern lights, especially at high latitudes.
Shooting stars on the program
The meteor shower follows roughly the same schedule year after year, with the Earth once again passing through different clouds of space debris on its annual journey around the Sun. The first big event occurs in April when the Lyrids reach their peak on April 22-23. This is a rare rain that is clearly visible in both the Northern and Southern Hemispheres. This year it falls when the moon is almost black.
This is followed by the Eta Aquarids, the first week of May, and the Southern Delta Aquarids, which peak in the last two nights of July. Both of these showers can produce bright fireballs and activity that can be observed for several days before and after the peak.
The most famous of all meteor showers, the Perseids, runs through the second half of July and through August, peaking on the night of August 12 and the next morning, when up to 100 meteors per hour can be seen with minimal interference from the Moon.
Other notable showers include the Orionids, which peak on October 20 and 21, the Taurids, which bring the night sky to life during October and November, and the Geminids in mid-December, which produce more meteors per hour than the Perseid peak on the night of December 13.
Four super full moons in a row
Each year, several full moons exceed size due to a phenomenon known as perigee syzygy or, more commonly, a supermoon. Simply put, sometimes a full moon falls when the Moon is closest to the Earth in its elliptical orbit. When this happens, it appears to be even larger in the sky than usual.
In 2023, we will be blessed with four supermoons grouped together: July 3rd, August 1st, August 31st, and September 29th.
There won’t be a major total solar eclipse this year like the one that will pass over much of North America in 2024. But there will be a couple of solar and lunar eclipses starting with the total solar eclipse on April 20th. Unfortunately, most of this event will take place in the Indian Ocean, far to the west of Australia and to the south of Indonesia, which are sparsely populated. Technically, this is a “hybrid” eclipse, which means that the partial solar eclipse will be visible over a slightly larger area.
Annular Eclipse 2011. NASA.
Perhaps more impressive is the annular eclipse on October 14, which will be visible from the US southwest and parts of Central and South America. This is a type of eclipse in which the Moon does not completely cover the Sun’s disk, resulting in a “ring of fire” effect around the Moon in the sky.
There will also be a couple of lunar eclipses. The first is a penumbral eclipse, when the Moon passes through the Earth’s partial shadow, making it appear darker. This eclipse will only be visible from Asia, Australia, parts of Eastern Europe and Africa. We will also see a similar effect during the partial lunar eclipse on October 28, visible from across Europe, Asia, Africa and Western Australia.
CNET.com article adapted by CNETFrance
Image: SpaceWeatherGallery.com/Akihiro Yamazaki