So far in 2012 we’ve seen flaming aurora borealis displays associated with increased solar activity, with even better to come in the next year or two. There have been spectacular conjunctions of the moon with Venus and Jupiter. Not to mention dazzling glimpses of Mars and Jupiter and the rarely seen Mercury.
Even beyond those impressive celestial sights, NASA and Space.com say, this will be quite the skywatching year.
Venus, for example, will continue to captivate throughout the first half of 2012. Each night it grows brighter and brighter; by the end of April, the Love Planet will be a plump, luminescent diamond suspended in the lingering twilight, shining well into the evening.
Ever the attention-seeker, Venus made a daytime appearance in March and another on April 24. But she will up the ante in early June with a cheeky transit across the face of the sun on the fifth and sixth, depending on your hemisphere. With the right equipment, i.e. something to prevent the sun from scorching one’s eyes, viewers will be able to see it as a black dot making its way across the flaming disk that bathes Mother Earth with its rays.
Even before Venus effects this memorable transit, the sun and moon will come into play on May 20 with an annular eclipse. This is a full solar eclipse in which the moon is far enough from us that it does not cover the sun entirely, leaving what appears to be a ring of fire around Luna’s dark disk. The event will be viewable across several U.S. states, the Pacific Ocean, Japan and China, according to Discovery News.
May 5 brings with it the biggest full moon of 2012, when our only natural satellite will be a mere 221,801 miles from Earth, its closest point this year. The proximity will cause “a large range in ocean tides (exceptionally low to exceptionally high)” for a few days, Space.com reports.
In the second half of the year, two of our favorite meteor showers—the Perseids and the Geminids—return on August 12 and December 13 to 14, respectively. Unlike last year, when bright moonlight obscured the lighter streaks in the Perseids, this year they are slated to dazzle, Space.com says. The Geminids will outshine even them, with up to 120 shooting stars per hour.
Capping off 2012’s skywatching extravaganza will be a penumbral lunar eclipse in November, when the moon will be dimmed by Mother Earth but not obscured, and a full solar eclipse mostly over the Pacific Ocean, though also visible in northern Australia and New Zealand, plus a stunning Christmastime appearance by Jupiter.
Watch this space for more astronomy stories, plus indigenous perspectives.