Another year of skywatching is upon us, and there's a lot to look forward to in 2023!
Here you'll see some of the more noteworthy sky events that will take place this upcoming year. Space.com's Night Sky skywatching column will provide more extensive coverage of most of these events as they draw closer.
If you want to make the most of these amazing stargazing events, check out our guides for the best binoculars and the best telescopes to get a closer look at the planets or anything else in the sky. We also have recommendations for the best cameras for astrophotography and best lenses for astrophotography.
Jan. 22: Venus shines close to Saturn in conjunction
At the start of the year, four of the five naked-eye planets are visible in our early night sky. Very low in the west-southwest one hour after sunset are dazzling Venus and to its upper right shines a much dimmer Saturn.
These two planets will appear very close together – just 20 arc minutes or 0.35-degrees apart – on Jan. 22. They have noticeably drawn farther apart on the following evening when a slender waxing crescent moon sits to the upper left of these two planets.
Late Jan.-Feb.: Possible naked-eye Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF)
Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will pass to within 103 million miles (166 million km) of the sun on January 12th and could possibly brighten to sixth or even fifth magnitude – bright enough to glimpse with bare eyes – during the final week of January into early February.
The comet will pass to within 26 million miles (42 million km) of Earth on Feb. 2. If visible, it will climb progressively higher during the early evening hours in the north-northeast sky, passing within 10 degrees of Polaris, the North Star, on Jan. 30 and within 1.5 degrees of the brilliant winter star Capella on Feb. 5.
The comet might possibly display a sharp well-condensed coma and a notable dust tail in binoculars or small telescopes. We'll just have to wait and see.
March 1: Jupiter meets Venus in conjunction
It will be most interesting to watch the gradual convergence of the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, all through the month of February.
On Feb. 1, both planets are evident in the west-southwest sky. If you hold your clenched fist out at arm's length, the two worlds are separated by three fists. But by Feb. 28, they'll be separated by the width of two full moons. From the Feb. 21 to Feb. 23, a crescent moon will glide past both planets – an eye-catching scene. Finally, like two ships passing in the evening twilight, Venus and Jupiter make their closest approach to each other on the evening of the March 1, side by side, a moon-width apart. They'll call your attention in the west-southwest sky a half hour after sunset.
March 28-April 18: Best time to see Mercury
Mercury, the innermost planet to the sun, is often referred to as the "elusive planet" because of its close proximity to the sun. But during this three-week interval, the rocky little world will be very favorably placed to see in the evening sky.
Mercury will emerge into view as a very bright "star" low in the west after sunset during the final days of March. Between April 5 and April 5, it will be setting more than 90 minutes after the sun, after evening twilight has ended, against a dark sky; its most favorable apparition either in the evening or morning in 2023.
April 20: Rare hybrid solar eclipse of the sun
The moon's distance at the time (233,582 miles) is such that the tip of the umbra merely scrapes the surface of the Earth. For the first minute or so it does not touch down and this first solar eclipse of 2023 starts off annular (ring-of-fire shaped) eclipse. As seen from the South Indian Ocean, approximately 270 miles west-northwest of the French Southern and Antarctic Lands, the moon does not quite cover the sun; instead, a very fine – and rapidly narrowing ring of fire shows around the moon's outline.
Then, at 02:38 GMT on April 20, the umbra tip hits the surface. At that instant of crossover, a properly positioned ship or trawler sees the moon exactly covering the sun for an instant in a total solar eclipse. From then on, the eclipse transitions to a total, as the umbra cuts into our planet; the breadth of its path on the surface, and the duration of totality as seen within that path, grow.
First landfall of the solar eclipse is in North West Cape, a peninsula in Western Australia. From Cape Range National Park, the sun is totally eclipsed for 63 seconds. The point of greatest eclipse is attained in the Timor Sea, just south of Timor-Leste, in Southeast Asia. Here, the sun will be totally eclipsed for 76.1 seconds at an altitude of 67 degrees, but the eclipse path is only 30 miles wide.
Continuing northeast, it cuts through West Papua, New Guinea and then turns east, narrowly missing the tiny island of Kosrae of Micronesia. The umbra lifts back out into space at 5:54 GMT over the North Pacific Ocean, transitioning back to an annular eclipse, but only for a couple of minutes before the shadow slides completely off the Earth’s surface.
A partial solar eclipse, caused by the far vaster penumbra that surrounds the umbra, begins an hour before, and ends an hour after the central (annular-total) eclipse, and can also be seen in varying extent over parts of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, all of Australia and Indonesia, a slice of Southeast Asia, the north half of New Zealand and a portion of Antarctica.
Spring-Summer: Venus shines magnificently
Some astronomy books will tell you that it's impossible to see Venus in the middle of the night. So, it will be hard to believe that Venus can stay up as late as it will during the third week of May, when it will be setting around or for some localities after midnight!
Venus reaches its greatest elongation – its greatest angular distance – 45 degrees to the east of the sun comes on June 4. Right after sunset on the first day of summer (June 21), look toward the west-northwest for a lovely crescent moon accompanied to its lower left by dazzling Venus. It is brightest in early summer as it heads back down toward the sun, reaching its greatest brilliancy for this apparition on the evening of July 7 at magnitude –4.7.
Aug. 12: The Perseid Meteor Shower
The Perseid meteor shower, the most famous of all meteor showers, is expected to reach its peak during the predawn hours of Aug.12.
The Perseids never fail to provide an impressive display and, due to the shower's summertime appearance, it tends to provide the majority of meteors seen by non-astronomy enthusiasts. These meteoroids are no bigger than sand grains or pebbles, have the consistency of cigar ash and are consumed many miles above our heads. They appear fast and bright and frequently leave persistent trains.
Our Perseid meteor shower observing guide has tips and tricks to see them. From a location free from bright lights and tall obstructions like buildings or trees, a single observer looking overhead and toward the northeast might see up to 90 shooting stars per hour. They're called Perseids because they appear to shoot away from the constellation Perseus.
Aug. 24: Moon hides bright star Antares
This event is called an "occultation" and will be best seen from most of the eastern half of the United States where Antares will disappear behind the dark limb of the moon after evening twilight has ended. This will be the first time that the moon will appear to pass in front of Antares anywhere on Earth since Feb. 7, 2010.
Aug. 30: Biggest full moon of 2023
The August full moon turns full at 9:36 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and 9 hours and 36 minutes earlier it will arrive at its closest point to the Earth in 2022 at a distance of 221,942 miles (357,181 km).
Colloquially, this is now referred to as a "Supermoon." Expect a large range in ocean tides (exceptionally low to exceptionally high) for the next few days.
Oct. 14: Annular (Ring of Fire) solar eclipse of the sun
An annular solar eclipse will occur and be visible from parts of the United States on Oct. 14.
On that day, the moon will be 4.6 days past apogee – that point in its orbit farthest from Earth. As a consequence, the tip of the dark umbral shadow fails to make contact with the Earth by some 13,000 miles. So unlike in April, this eclipse will be annular throughout: like a penny placed atop a nickel, the disk of the moon appears too small to completely cover the sun.
The magnitude, or fraction of the sun's width that the moon covers, means that 4.8% of that width shows all around. From the moment the eclipse path begins over the North Pacific Ocean, it slides on a southeast trajectory, arriving at the coast of Oregon at 9:15 a.m. Pacific Daylight Time. For the next 46 minutes, the annular phase will be visible from parts of nine states running from Oregon to Texas; the width of the shadow path averaging 127 miles.
The duration of annularity along the center of the eclipse path will steadily increase from 4 minutes 34 seconds at the Oregon coast to 5 minutes 2 seconds at the Texas Gulf Coast. Cities that will experience the "ring of fire" effect include, Eugene, OR, Winnemucca, NV, Albuquerque, NM, San Antonio and Corpus Christi, TX.
After it leaves Texas, the eclipse path will pass across Mexico’s Yucatan Peninsula, then slide through Central America (where Greatest Eclipse occurs in the Caribbean Sea just off the coast of southern Nicaragua), then on into south-central Colombia, through northern Brazil, before finally coming to an end over the open ocean waters of the South Atlantic.
An annular eclipse is not like totality: the sky gets no darker than in a deep partial eclipse; the sun's glorious corona, and the chromosphere and "edge effects" such as shadow bands cannot appear. Yet, it is still a spectacular sight, and enthusiasts will go to whatever section of the eclipse track is most easily accessible for them.
Nov. 9: A beautiful Venus and predawn moon tableau
Be sure to set your alarm clock for 5 a.m. local time and then head outside on Nov. 9, 2023 to a location with an unobstructed view toward the east-northeast to see the most spectacular moon/Venus pairing of 2023.
You'll likely also see the dark of the crescent moon eerily glowing with a blue-gray cast, a phenomenon known as "Earthshine."
Dec. 13: The Geminid meteor shower
If you are willing to bundle up, the overnight hours of Dec.13-14 will be when the Geminid meteor shower is predicted to be at its peak and one or two meteors per minute may streak into view.
This meteor display has a reputation for long, slow, graceful meteors and occasional fireballs. The moon will be absent from the sky, and the frosty air is likely to be especially transparent. The meteors appear to emanate from near the star Castor, in Gemini, which appears to pass almost directly overhead around 2 a.m. local time.
You can also look for these meteors the night before and the night after the peak, although they’ll be only about half as numerous the night before; a quarter as numerous the night after. Faint meteors will proliferate on the night of Dec. 12, but Geminids on the nights of Dec. 13 and Dec. 14 should be noticeably brighter.
Editor's Note: If you snap a photo of any of the planets, eclipses or meteor showers in this guide and would like to share it with Space.com's readers, send your photo(s), comments, and your name and location to email@example.com.
Joe Rao serves as an instructor and guest lecturer at New York's Hayden Planetarium. He writes about astronomy for Natural History magazine, the Farmers' Almanac and other publications. Follow us on Twitter @Spacedotcom and on Facebook.