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The new year kicks off with the Quadrantids, one of 12 annual meteor showers.
The celestial event is typically among the strongest meteor showers and is expected to peak overnight January 3 and 4, according to the American Meteor Society. Sky-gazers in the Northern Hemisphere can best view the shower between the late-night hours of Tuesday and dawn on Wednesday.
However, the shower is notoriously hard to observe due to its brief peak of six hours and January’s often inclement weather in the Northern Hemisphere. A bright, nearly full moon will make the Quadrantids even less visible this year.
Moonset will occur just before dawn, providing a very small window to spot the shower against dark skies.
Predictions for the shower’s peak range from 10:40 p.m. to 1:40 a.m. ET (3:40 a.m. to 6:40 a.m. Greenwich Mean Time). The later time favors those in the eastern part of North America and the earlier time is more favorable for observers across Europe. The Quadrantids won’t be visible in the Southern Hemisphere because the shower’s radiant point doesn’t rise that high in its sky before dawn.
Check Time and Date’s site to see what your chances are like to view the event, or step outside to take a look for yourself. The Virtual Telescope Project will also have a live stream of the shower over Rome.
What you’ll see
Between 50 and 100 meteors are typically visible per hour, especially in rural areas, although the peak can include up to 120 visible meteors in an hour.
Watch the northeastern sky, and look about halfway up. You may even glimpse some fireballs during the meteor shower. View the skies for at least an hour, the American Meteor Society advises.
If you live in an urban area, you may want to drive to a place that isn’t full of bright city lights. If you’re able to find an area unaffected by light pollution, meteors could be visible every couple of minutes from late evening until dawn.
Find an open area with a wide view of the sky. Make sure you have a chair or blanket so you can look straight up. And give your eyes about 20 to 30 minutes to adjust to the darkness — without looking at your phone — so the meteors will be easier to spot.
If the meteor shower’s name sounds odd, it’s probably because it doesn’t sound like it’s related to a constellation, like other meteor showers. That’s because the Quadrantids’ namesake constellation no longer exists — at least, not as a recognized constellation.
The constellation Quadrans Muralis, first observed and noted in 1795 between Boötes and Draco, is no longer included in the International Astronomical Union’s list of modern constellations because it’s considered obsolete and isn’t used as a landmark for celestial navigation anymore, according to EarthSky.
Like the Geminid meteor shower, the Quadrantid comes from a mysterious asteroid or “rock comet,” rather than an icy comet, which is unusual. This particular asteroid is 2003 EH1, which takes 5.52 years to complete one orbit around the sun. The shower’s peak is short because only a small stream of particles interacts with our atmosphere, and the stream occurs at a perpendicular angle. Each year, Earth passes through this debris trail for a short time.
Catch a comet, too
In addition to the meteor shower, a recently discovered comet will soon make its appearance in January’s night sky.
Discovered in March 2022, the comet will make its closest approach to the sun on January 12, according to NASA. The comet, spotted by astronomers using the Zwicky Transient Facility at the Palomar Observatory in San Diego County, California, is named C/2022 E3 (ZTF) and will make its closest pass of Earth on February 2.
The comet should be visible through binoculars in the morning sky for sky-watchers in the Northern Hemisphere during most of January and those in the Southern Hemisphere in early February, according to NASA.
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Here are the rest of 2023’s top sky events, so you can have your binoculars and telescope ready.
Mark your calendar with the peak dates of other showers to watch in 2023:
- Lyrids: April 22-23
- Eta Aquariids: May 5-6
- Southern delta Aquariids: July 30-31
- Alpha Capricornids: July 30-31
- Perseids: August 12-13
- Orionids: October 20-21
- Southern Taurids: November 4-5
- Northern Taurids: November 11-12
- Leonids: November 17-18
- Geminids: December 13-14
- Ursids: December 21-22
Full moons and supermoons
Most years, there are 12 full moons — one for each month. But in 2023, there will be 13 full moons, with two occurring in August.
The second full moon in one month is known as a blue moon, like the phrase “once in a blue moon,” according to NASA. Typically, full moons occur every 29 days, while most months in our calendar last 30 or 31 days, so the months and moon phases don’t always align. This results in a blue moon about every 2.5 years.
The two full moons in August can also be considered supermoons, according to EarthSky. Definitions of a supermoon vary, but the term generally denotes a full moon that is brighter and closer to Earth than normal and thus appears larger in the night sky.
Some astronomers say the phenomenon occurs when the moon is within 90% of perigee — its closest approach to Earth in orbit. By that definition, the full moon for July will also be considered a supermoon event, according to EarthSky.
Here is the list of full moons for 2023, according to the Farmer’s Almanac:
- January 6: Wolf moon
- February 5: Snow moon
- March 7: Worm moon
- April 6: Pink moon
- May 5: Flower moon
- June 3: Strawberry moon
- July 3: Buck moon
- August 1: Sturgeon moon
- August 30: Blue moon
- September 29: Harvest moon
- October 28: Hunter’s moon
- November 27: Beaver moon
- December 26: Cold moon
While these are the popularized names associated with the monthly full moon, each one carries its own significance across Native American tribes (with many also referred to by differing names).
Solar and lunar eclipses
There will be two solar eclipses and two lunar eclipses in 2023.
A total solar eclipse will occur on April 20, visible to those in Australia, New Zealand, Southeast Asia and Antarctica. This kind of event occurs when the moon moves between the sun and Earth, blocking out the sun.
And for some sky-watchers in Indonesia, parts of Australia and Papua New Guinea, it will actually be a hybrid solar eclipse. The curvature of Earth’s surface can cause some eclipses to shift between total and annular as the moon’s shadow moves across the globe, according to NASA.
Like a total solar eclipse, the moon passes between the sun and the Earth during an annular eclipse — but it occurs when the moon is at or near its farthest point from Earth, according to NASA. This causes the moon to appear smaller than the sun, so it doesn’t completely block out our star and creates a glowing ring around the moon.
A Western Hemisphere-sweeping annular solar eclipse will occur on October 14 and be visible across the Americas.
Be sure to wear proper eclipse glasses to safely view solar eclipses, as the sun’s light can be damaging to the eye.
Meanwhile, a lunar eclipse can occur only during a full moon when the sun, Earth and moon align and the moon passes into Earth’s shadow. When this occurs, Earth casts two shadows on the moon during the eclipse. The partial outer shadow is called the penumbra; the full, dark shadow is the umbra.
When the full moon moves into Earth’s shadow, it darkens, but it won’t disappear. Instead, sunlight passing through Earth’s atmosphere lights the moon in a dramatic fashion, turning it red — which is why the event is often referred to as a “blood moon.”
Depending on the weather conditions in your area, it may be a rusty or brick-colored red. This happens because blue light undergoes stronger atmospheric scattering, so red light will be the most dominant color highlighted as sunlight passes through the atmosphere and casts it on the moon.
A penumbral lunar eclipse will occur on May 5 for those in Africa, Asia and Australia. This less dramatic version of a lunar eclipse happens when the moon moves through the penumbra, or the faint, outer part of Earth’s shadow.
A partial lunar eclipse of the hunter’s moon on October 28 will be visible to those in Europe, Asia, Australia, Africa, parts of North America and much of South America. Partial eclipses occur when the sun, Earth and moon don’t completely align, so only part of the moon passes into shadow.