Wednesday, January 4, 2023

A New Comet Arrives Then "Ring of Fire" Eclipse & And Other 2023 Astronomical Events (Updated Comet Finder Map)


     Comet C 2022 E3 (ZTF) may be visible to naked eye observers later this month

The comet, named C/2022 E3 (ZTF), is currently passing through the inner solar system. It will make its closest approach to the sun, or perihelion, on Jan. 12, and will then whip past Earth making its closest passage of our planet, its perigee, between Feb. 1 and Feb. 2.  If the comet continues to brighten as it currently is, it could be visible in dark skies with the naked eye.  (An image of the new comet - taken by Hisayoshi Sato, is shown above).  Would -be observers should look for C/2022 E3 (ZTF) when the Moon is dim in the sky, with the new moon on Jan. 21 offering such an opportunity, weather permitting. 

According to the website Starlust(opens in new tab), the comet will be in the Camelopardalis constellation during its close approach.  ASTRONOMY magazine recommends looking for the comet through 7 x 50 mm binoculars through late January up to February 1-3.  (On Jan. 29 it lies 10 deg from Polaris - the North Star)   By Feb. 5th, however, the full Moon means you will definitely need binoculars to spot it near the star Capella. 


Venus-Jupiter Conjunction on March 1st, e.g.

      Jupiter-Venus conjunction on March 1st from Colorado Springs

On the night of March 1st Venus will be within the angular width of the full Moon (30 ') to Jupiter.  The graphic above, from my Cybersky program, shows Venus in pink adjacent to Jupiter.  The pair will make a splendid sight about 1 hour after sunset in the southwest sky.  No binoculars needed but a small telescope with a 1 degree or larger field of view provides the best view.

Mammoth Sunspots - Solar Activity In May

ASTRONOMY projects a rise in solar activity with cycle 25 ramping up from May.   This cycle has already been showing some of the most rapid increases in activity in decades.  Probably since my cycle 20 observations in the early 1980s.  But bear in mind special solar filters are needed for observations.  To get a good handle on potential events check out this space weather website:

Sunspot regions | Solar activity |

Venus Dominates In June As Evening Star:

On June 1st Venus appears 25 degrees above the western horizon an hour after sunset providing an excellent opportunity for observation by naked eye, binoculars or telescope.   At a magnitude of -4.4, see e.g.

Selected Questions- Answers From All Experts Astronomy Forum(Stellar Brightness- Magnitude Scale)

Solutions to Simple Astronomy Problems (3)

Venus will appear brighter than any other celestial object, against the background of the constellation Gemini. Venus remains at this angular distance from the Sun for two weeks on either side of the reference date, so don't fret over a rainy night or two.

Saturn At Opposition:

Saturn will present a spectacular view at opposition, and also a radically different one from the aspect we've been used to.  To fix ideas, for the past 13 years we've been looking down on the giant planet's northern hemisphere so the rings were clearly visible, tipped to our line of sight. But now the planet will commence a 2 year process over which the ring angle with respect to us will change, being essentially edge on by 2025. E.g. from a previous ring change,

In the current opposition the rings will still be visible but barely.  In May, when Saturn appears in the morning sky, the rings tilt 8 degrees to our line of sight. It then dips down to 7 deg and back to 9 degrees in late August. The optimal viewing occurs on Aug. 29th at opposition when the disk spans 18" of arc, with the ring length more than double that. 

Mercury is at optimal viewing in September:

Mercury has always been an elusive planet on account of its brief orbital period (58 days), so it alternates relatively rapidly between being a morning and evening object.  But in September Mercury outdoes itself by providing its best morning appearance for the year.   After passing between Sun and Earth on Sept. 6th it quickly ascends higher in the predawn sky, reaching greatest elongation on Sept. 22nd when it lies 18 deg west of the Sun and 8 deg in altitude 45 minutes before sunrise.  This may be the best chance to see the tiny planet in years, and I for one plan to take advantage of the propitious alignment.

"Ring of fire" Annular Eclipse in October:

 One of the most spectacular annular eclipses, dubbed a "ring of fire" effect will transpire over parts of the U.S. on October 14th.   The map below displays the path of annularity within which the eclipse will provide an optimal display.

A similar annular eclipse occurred in February, 2017 and you get some idea of what to expect from the image below:

Jupiter dominates late fall sky:

"Big Jupe" attains opposition over Nov. 2/3 and ought to present a stunning sight. It will reach a magnitude of -2.9 and this will ensure the attention of any random stargazers.  Through a small telescope - like the one I have (a Tasco 2.4 in. refractor) its width spans 50" which means I will easily be able to observe the atmospheric belts, e.g.

Geminid Meteor Shower:  

From December 4-17 the Geminids make their appearance and the New Moon on December 12th provides special dark viewing.   Observers may see up 150 meteors per hour.

All in all, weather permitting, it should be a great year for observing a diverse set of astronomical events!

See Also:

Tackling Intermediate Astronomy Problems (2) 

Updated comet finder map: for end of January through Feb. 5th:

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