What to look out for in 2022 (well what’s left of it!)

  1. Magnificent Saturn was at its closest to the Earth on 14 August and is still visible all night long. You will need a modest telescope and a magnification of about 35x to bring the famous rings into view. The same combination will also show you its biggest moon, Titan. To the naked eye Saturn looks like a reasonably bright yellow star. Look fairly low down in the south. Remember the planet is visible for many months before this date. Stargazers call this closest approach an “opposition” because the Sun, Earth and Saturn all line up.
  2. The only planet in the solar system bigger than Saturn is marvellous Jupiter. It reaches its opposition on 26 September and stands a mere 480 million miles or so from the Earth. Binoculars will show up to four of its moons, but with a telescope there’s chance to glimpse the complexity of the Jovian atmosphere with its multiple bands (Jupiter is a big ball of gas). The planet is getting higher in the sky now after being very low for quite a few years. This is great news because it’s much easier to see fine detail with greater elevation. The planet is much brighter than a star and will dominate the sky for months before and after this closest approach.
  3. The Orionids meteor shower reaches its peak overnight on 21/22 October.  This is one of the few shooting star events not compromised by a bright moon this year so make the best of it.   Although the text books refer to it as an “average shower” I’d have to disagree.  It’s a beauty with lovely shooting stars (often with a green trail) produced by dust grains left behind by Comet Halley.  Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight and before the moon rises.  Look high to the south east and use your naked eye.  As always keep your eyes open for meteors in the days before and after the peak. 
  4. On 25 October there’s a partial solar eclipse visible from the UK. This is when the Moon comes between the Earth and the Sun and seems to take a bite taken out of the latter.   To observe it with a telescope you will need one equipped with a special solar filter to ensure your safety.  If you don’t you will damage your eyes permanently so do not take any risks. Up to 30% of the sun will be eclipsed and the event stars just after 10am with maximum coverage of the sun about 50 minutes later. It slightly favours locations to the east of the UK, especially Scotland and North East England.
  5. The Leonids meteor show (peaking overnight on 17/18 November) is the penultimate one of the year.  The moon is out of the sky until after midnight – which is both good and bad as the best rates are usually seen in the wee small hours. . At times this shower has produced a storm, but at others it’s been a bit sparse. Meteor showers are like cats – unpredictable. Dark locations favoured, use your naked eye and look generally to the east. 
  6. Uranus is the second most distant planet in the solar system and at its nearest to Earth the gap between us is still over 1.6 billion miles. So despite being a large planet it is not visible to the naked eye, but it is a very easy binocular object if you know where to look.  And on 5 December at about 4.45pm the full moon will point the way as it passes in front of the much more distant, frozen, world before it re-emerges about 45 minutes later.  The duo will be about 20 degrees above the eastern horizon.  
  7. On 8 December Mars makes its closest approach to the Earth. It does so every two years, but not all such events (or oppositions) are equal.  This one is a corker.  The red planet will swell in brightness in the preceding months and will be visible all night. It also grows in apparent size as the Earth speeds around in its orbit to close in on its target. To the naked eye Mars really does look distinctly orange and this year the planet is high in the sky – just where we want it! But there’s more. At about 6.30am on 8 December the full moon will move in front of Mars to cover it (an occultation).  This is quite a rare event and should be a memorable one for those with access to a telescope. You will see the planetary disc with dark markings (Martian highlands) set behind a lunar landscape of craters and peaks!  
  8. To close out the year the Geminids meteor shower takes centre stage and it’s by far the best of the lot Shooting stars are visible in the nights well before and after the peak on 13/14 December which is just as well as the climax is a bit affected by a big moon which rises at 8.30pm. Having said that we were still able to spot half a dozen or so shooting stars on a moonlit night on the outskirts of a large town in 2021 so don’t be put off.  This shower delivers!  All the usual observing rules apply. Be patient, later is better and look high in the south east.
  9. We end the year and usher in 2023 with the planets Venus and Mercury very close to each other low in the west after sunset. On a crisp clear evening it should look absolutely beautiful.  Venus will be dazzlingly bright.

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