Venus hides a star for 7 minutes

Venus occults or covers the star Lambda Aquarii April 17, 2014 

A planet covering a naked eye star is rarer by far than a total eclipse of the moon, and yet Venus did just that yesterday afternoon (U.S. time) from Australia, New Zealand and Micronesia. No one in the northern hemisphere witnessed the event; Venus passed south of the star from our perspective.

Jonathan Bradshaw of Australia captured this exceptional alignment well in his video despite the shaky atmosphere. Lambda Aquarii, a 4th magnitude star in Aquarius, was wiped from the sky for all of seven minutes.

It’s believed that the last bright star Venus or any major planet covered up was 2nd magnitude Nunki in Sagittarius for observers in eastern Africa in November 1981. Venus next occults Pi Sagittarii in 2035 and bright Regulus on Oct. 1, 2044. Mercury will cover up Theta Ophiuchi on Dec. 4, 2015.

Mars will pass in front of Jupiter in an extremely rare planet-over-planet occultation on Dec. 2, 2223. Stellarium

Very rarely, planets pass in front of each other. Over the 300 year span from 1800 to 2100 only 7 “mutual occultations” of this sort have or will occur. Venus crossed in front of Jupiter in 1818 – that was the last observable one. The next will happen when Mars passes in front of Jupiter on Dec. 2, 2223. Clearly, you and I and even our kids won’t be around for that event, but maybe some of our kids’ kids will.

Nature shows that once again even the most unlikely things can happen as long as one key ingredient is available – oodles of time.

Astronomers find evidence of erupting volcanoes on Venus

Venus and the crescent moon an hour before sunrise on Thursday March 27, 2014. A new study shows that volcanoes may still be active on the planet. Stellarium

Go outside this Thursday at dawn and you’ll see Venus and the crescent moon together in the southeastern sky. A peaceful scene yes, but appearances can deceive.

Beneath Venus’ blanket of acid clouds, astronomers have detected what they believe are active volcanoes.

5-mile-high Maat Mons, the tallest volcano on the planet Venus is seen in this image made by radar with NASA’s Magellan spacecraft. The probe discovered relatively recent (10-20 million years) ash flows near the summit. Click to enlarge. Credit: NASA

Scientists have identified over 1,600 volcanoes or volcanic features on Venus and clear signs of recent lava flows on its surface. Clearly, our sister planet has been volcanically active in the past. Something must be smoothing out Venus’ surface because it has only about 1,000 craters, a very small number compared to other planets. Are volcanoes still active today?

Planetary scientist Alexander Bazilevskiy, with the Max-Planck Institute for Solar System Research in Germany, and colleagues examined pictures taken by the orbiting Venus Express probe and looked for changes in the relative brightness of surface features.

Object “A” shows as a temporary hot spot on June 24, 2008 (middle frame) in the rift feature Ganiki Chasma on Venus. Credit: ESA / Alexander Bazilevskiy

They found four brief flashes of light in a relatively young rift zone known as Ganiki Chasma which was imaged 36 times by the orbiter.

Artist’s impression of an active volcano on Venus. Credit: ESA/AOES

“Venus might have ongoing volcanism,” said Bazilevskiy. The flashes, estimated to be between 980 degrees and 1,520 degrees Fahrenheit (526-826 C) are well above the planet’s normal broiling surface temperature of 800 F (426 C). The team believes the four hot spots, all located near the giant shield volcano Maat Mons, could indicate hot material at or just below the surface. They allow it may also be gas or a combination of both.

Photos of the barren, rocky, hot surface of Venus taken by the Russian landers Venera 14 (left) and Venera 13 and reprocessed by Don Mitchell.

Venus Express has also measured dramatic changes in the content of sulfur dioxide – a gas commonly spewed by active volcanoes – in the atmosphere since it began orbiting the planet in 2006. Since the chemical is normally disassembled by sunlight in a matter of days, something must be happening on the Venus’ surface to replenish it. This new study may prove to be the smoking caldera … er, gun to clinch the case.

Venus photographed by Mariner 10 through UV and orange filters. The planet is covered in perpetual clouds. Credit: NASA

The team continues to look for more evidence of volcanism on this most beautiful of planets. Click HERE to read more about their work.

How sweet it is! Venus and moon delicious at dawn

Venus and the crescent moon pair up in the southeastern sky tomorrow morning Feb. 26. This map shows the view about 45 minutes before sunrise. Stellarium

Feel like starting your day under the influence … of the cosmos? If you’re up early tomorrow, take a look to the southeast before sunrise. You’ll be greeted by the beautiful sight of Venus and the crescent moon paired up against dawn’s pink glow.

For some the duo will gleam over a snowy landscape, for others it could be a tropical ocean. But if you live in West Africa, the timing and location are just right for the moon to occult or cover Venus.

Venus emerging from the dim, Earth-illuminated portion of the moon as seen from Libreville, Gabon tomorrow morning at dawn. Stellarium

The planet will disappear along the moon’s bright limb and then reappear about an hour later along the dark, earth-lit portion. The appearance of the brilliant planet poking out from behind the dark moon will make a striking sight at dawn.

Observers there may even attempt to see the mysterious Ashen Light, a controversial glow in Venus’ dark hemisphere that may or may not be real. The best time to try for it – again, if you happen to be in equatorial Africa – is when the bright Venusian crescent is still hidden by the moon with its dark hemisphere poking over the edge.

On the easier and less controversial side, the moon will make Venus incredibly easy to spot in daylight.

For the Americas, Venus and the moon will have put 4 degrees (8 moon diameters) of sky between them by the time they rise. Still, if you pay attention to where Venus is in relation to the moon when it’s easy to spot before sunrise, you might succeed in finding the planet in the daytime too. Good luck!

Chasing lunar crescents … and Mercury too!

A sight worth the frozen fingers. The wafer-thin crescent moon alongside Mercury (upper left) over the Duluth, Minn. – Superior, Wis. area last night during twilight. The planet was visible for more than 1 hour 15 minutes after sunset. Details: 150mm lens at f/2.8, ISO 400 and 1/4″ exposure. Credit: Bob King

Hope you saw the pairing of Mercury and the 1-day-old moon last night. If you missed it or had to put up with bad weather, a slightly thicker crescent will hover a “fist” above Mercury in the western sky during twilight tonight. Start looking about 40 minutes after sunset.

The wiry moon sets over Duluth’s Spirit Mountain ski hill – many of the runs were lit up Friday night. Notice the prominent earthshine or darkly-lit moon. This is light reflected off Earth and out to the moon, where it’s reflected back again to our eyes. Details: 350mm lens at f/4.5, ISO 800 and 1-second exposure. Credit: Bob King

Be sure to catch the planet sometime in the next week before it slinks back toward the horizon and disappears in the twilight glow. The moon was so thin that its Cheshire cat smile appeared slightly broken or irregular to the eye. Sure wish I’d brought binoculars for a closer look.

Beautifully composed shot of Venus and the morning crescent on Jan. 28, 2014 on either side of a statue of astronomer Nicholas Copernicus at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago, Ill. Copyright: Don MacKay

One day before new moon phase, lots of folks reported sightings of a similarly skinny crescent to the lower left of Venus in the dawn sky. I received a couple beautiful images to share with you. Enjoy.

One day later on Jan. 29 the moon had moved to the left and below brilliant Venus. This photo taken from the woodlands of Lakewood Township near Duluth, Minn. Details: 1.6 sec, 70mm F4, ISO 400. Credit: James Schaff

Illustration (not to scale) showing why the evening crescent faces one way and the morning crescent the other. As the moon orbits the Earth, sunlight illuminates its left or eastern edge before new moon. After new moon, the right or western edge is lit. Illustration: Bob King

Venus and the old lunar crescent meet at dawn tomorrow

The view facing southeast Tuesday morning Jan. 28 about 45 minutes before sunrise. Stellarium

Tomorrow morning between 45 minutes and an hour before sunrise, take a look to the southeast to see fresh-faced Venus alongside the old crescent moon.  If you have 8-10x binoculars, you’ll make a delightful discovery – Venus has nearly the same phase as that of the lunar crescent.

Venus is about two weeks out of conjunction and gradually filling out in phase, while the moon dwindles toward new phase, when it’s so thin it can’t be seen at all. Both lie west of the sun and in nearly the same line of sight – that’s why they appear as thin crescents with the sun just touching their eastern rims.

Clear skies!

Don’t miss this Saturday’s Saturn-moon conjunction

The big picture in the southern sky this Saturday morning at dawn shows the moon just a degree below Saturn with Mars at upper right in the south and Venus very low in the southeastern sky. Stellarium

A very nice, close pairing of Saturn and the waning 3rd quarter moon will happen Saturday morning at dawn. With late sunrises still the rule, this should be a very easy event to catch even through a parted window shade.

At closest, the two will be just two moon widths or 1 degree apart. Saturn’s in Libra the Scales, a dim constellation that precedes the brighter, more picturesque Scorpius the Scorpion. You can see part of the scorpion to the lower left of the duo. In particular, look for the bright red supergiant star Antares.

Both Libra and Scorpius are late spring-early summer constellations, visible at nightfall in May when the butterflies fly. It’s thoughts like these that lift our spirits on cold winter nights. I had the same feeling two nights ago when I happened to be out observing around 11:30 p.m. and caught sight of a “new” star flashing in the northeastern sky – Arcturus. If there were ever a vanguard of spring, this star is it. Arcturus creeps higher every frigid night until the snow is gone, the leaves turn out and jackets are shed.

Mobile phone shot of Venus in twilight Monday morning. Credit: Sean Cassidy

While you’re out enjoying Saturday’s conjunction (by the way, Saturday’s named for the Roman god Saturn) stay out a little longer to enjoy the reappearance of Venus low in the southeastern sky about 40 minutes before sunrise. Sean’s photo will help you know what to expect.

Mercury and Venus trade places, liven up dawn and dusk this week

Venus is back! This time in the morning sky during mid-twilight. This view shows the planet about 10 degrees high (one fist at arm’s length) 40 minutes before sunrise tomorrow. Stellarium

Like resurrected gods, Mercury and Venus passed closest to the fiery glare of the sun earlier this month and disappeared from view for a time. Now they’ve returned but on opposite sides of the sun – Mercury in the evening and Venus in the morning.

Venus lingered for months in the dusky dusk until Jan. 11 when it passed between the sun and Earth and disappeared in the solar glare. Now she’s west of the sun, rising at dawn and visible with the naked eye about 40 minutes before sunrise.

Mercury has also stayed “close” to the sun and hidden from northern hemisphere sky watchers’s eyes during the first half of January. Now it’s crawling up the southwestern evening sky and will gradually become easier to see in the next week. While a feeble replacement for brilliant Venus, the solar system’s elusive, innermost planet is a rarer sight by far.

Mercury’s position shown 30 minutes after sunset on three dates. A very thin crescent will pass near the planet on Jan. 31. Mercury’s altitude is about 4 degrees tonight, 8 deg. on the 26th and 10 deg. on the 31st. The map shows the sky facing west-southwest. Stellarium

I’ve prepared simple maps for you to find both of these wanderers. You’ll need a clear horizon to the southeast to spy Venus and the same to the southwest for Mercury. You’ll find Venus much easier to spot because it’s so much brighter than Mercury and somewhat higher too.

In early January Venus lay east of the sun in the evening sky with its horns pointing left; now in late January, it’s swung west of the sun into the morning sky with the tips pointing west. Illustration: Bob King

If you’ve been following the planet over the last month, you’ll notice that the crescent is reversed from its evening appearance, with horns pointing up to the right instead of left. Tomorrow morning the crescent measures 59 arc seconds across or nearly one arc minute (60 arc seconds), equal to 1/30 the diameter of the full moon. 7-10x binoculars will easily show the delicate Venusian crescent.

Venus and Mercury on Jan. 19 viewed through a telescope (or in Venus’ case, also binoculars). Although not shown to scale in this illustration, Venus is more than 10 times larger in appearance than Mercury. Stellarium

Don’t expect to see Mercury’s humpbacked gibbous phase in the old opera glass. The munchkin planet spans only 3,032 miles across (2.5 times smaller than Venus) and is currently on the far side of its orbit 4.6 times farther from Earth than Venus. With a disk just 5.5 arc seconds across, Mercury’s phase will require a telescope magnifying around 100x to see clearly.

Now all you’ve got to do is resurrect yourself from the couch and go out for a look.

Not One but Two Crescents Shine on Evening Skywatchers

Two crescents over Duluth, Minn. U.S. at dusk yesterday Jan. 2. One you can see just by looking up;  the other you’ll need binoculars for. Credit: Bob King

Last night the crescent moon joined a teeny tiny crescent Venus at dusk. Tonight you can watch for them again. While no optical aid is needed to enjoy a lunar crescent, Venus needs a helping hand. If you have binoculars that magnify at least 7x, point them at the planet and you’ll see a miniature replica of tonight’s crescent moon.

Venus through a 300mm telephoto lens and 1.4x teleconverter last night. This is how the planet will look through a pair of binoculars. Credit: Bob King

It’s a sight not to miss. Why? Venus is rapidly approaching the sun from our perspective and will soon pass between Earth and the sun. As the angle it makes to the sun narrows, we see less and less of the planet illuminated by sunlight until little is left but a skinny crescent. It’s a big crescent too because Venus is the closest it’s been to Earth since June 2012.

Diagram shows Venus’ orbit around the sun. Right now it’s ALMOST lined up between sun and Earth and shows as a very thin crescent. On Jan. 11 Venus will be at inferior conjunction – directly between sun and Earth – and then move west of the sun and appear in the morning sky. Illustration: Bob King

Comet next Saturday Jan.11, the planet undergoes inferior conjunction when it slides between sun and Earth. You won’t see it that day or for a week or two after as the planet will be lost in the sun’s glare. By about the 20th, Venus will “switch side”, rising in the east before sunrise. That’s why now is the time to catch the waning Venusian crescent before it’s too late.

Crescent Earth on Jan. 1, 2014 photographed by the GOES East satellite. Credit: NASA

While we’re on the topic of sickle-shaped celestial objects, even Earth can look like a crescent moon from the right perspective. The photo was taken by the GOES-13 East weather satellite on New Year’s Day from geostationary orbit from a distance of about 22,200 miles (36,000 km).

Will you see tonight’s silvery sliver of a moon? / Aurora watch Jan. 1-2

An 18-hour-old crescent moon photographed with a 12-inch telescope on April 22, 2012. An even younger moon may be visible tonight in the southwestern sky shortly after sundown. Credit: John Chumack and Maurice Massey

2014 begins with a chance to spy an exceptionally thin crescent moon shortly after sunset and possibly the shimmer of aurora at nightfall.

The thin crescent about 1.5 days before new moon on Jan. 21, 2012. Credit: Bob King

The moon’s age is determined by how many hours or days have passed since new moon phase. New moon occurs once a month when the moon lies in nearly the same direction as the sun in the sky. No one can see a new moon because it stays very close to the sun and hides in the glare of daylight.

Under favorable circumstances it’s not too difficult to spot a 1-day-old moon, referred to as a young moon because it’s the first or youngest bit of moon we see after new moon. Young moons are delicate, faint and tucked far down in the twilight glow shortly after sunset.

Spotting a moon fewer than 24 hours old requires planning. You need a flat horizon, haze-free skies and a pair of binoculars. Being on time’s important, too. Be sure to arrive at your observing spot shortly before sundown. Knowing the point on the horizon where the sun sets will guide you to the crescent’s location.

Venus – still visible low in the southwestern sky at dusk – will also be a big help tonight. It’s perfect for getting a sharp focus with your binoculars, essential for seeing the faint lunar crescent clearly. The planet hovers some 7-8 degrees to the moon’s upper left. When you focus on it, you’ll be in for a surprise. I wish I could tell you, but that would spoil the fun.

Diagram showing the sky facing southwest from the Minneapolis area 20 minutes after sunset or at 5:02 p.m. today. The moon will be about 3.5 degrees high at the time. The view will be similar across the Midwest. Further west, the moon will be somewhat higher and closer to Venus. Stellarium

New moon occurred at 5:14 a.m. (CST) today, making tonight’s crescent approximately 12 hours old for skywatchers in the Midwest. Since the moon’s orbit carries it moves east of the sun its own diameter every hour, skywatchers in the western U.S. will have a somewhat easier time of seeing it. From Denver, the moon will be 13 hours old, San Francisco 14 hours and Hawaii 16 hours.

Given that the record for the earliest naked eye sighting of the moon after (or before) new phase is 15 hours 32 minutes and the earliest binocular/telescope observation is 11 hours 40 minutes, most of us will need some kind of optical aid to spy tonight’s silvery sliver.

I recommend a pair of binoculars in the 35mm-50mm range with a generous field of view. Oh, and don’t forget your heavy coat and boots for warmth. Locales with open horizons are generally the windiest places in the world.

Now here’s a lovely view. The waning crescent moon rises above Earth’s atmosphere as seen from the International Space Station. Credit: NASA

Here’s a checklist of what you’ll need:

* Figure out your sunset and moonset times HERE. That way you’ll know exactly when and for how long to watch.

* Thank your lucky stars if the sky is extremely clear and without haze or clouds in the southwest direction.

* Arrive no later than sunset, face toward the direction of sunset and focus your binoculars or telescope on Venus, that brilliant “star” you’ll see about 1 to 2 fists high in the southwestern sky.

* Start looking for the moon 10 minutes after sunset by slowly sweeping the sky just a few degrees above the sunset point. Continue to look for the next 25 minutes giving your eyes an occasional rest and checking focus. You’ll be looking for the thinnest of the thin, no more than a partial arc scratched across the deepening blue.

* If you spy the moon in binoculars, carefully lower them and try to find the moon with your naked eye.

Whether you have success of not, I welcome anyone who attempts this observing challenge to share your observation in our comments section. Good luck to you!

The coronal hole – photographed on Dec. 30 in far ultraviolet light – that might could lead to a chance at seeing the northern lights tonight and tomorrow nights. Credit: NASA

Later this evening and tomorrow as well, there’s a chance that a high-speed stream of particles cut loose from a coronal hole – a open magnetic portal in the sun’s corona that allows electrons and protons to flow freely into space – could kick-start minor auroras at high latitudes. Sometimes that means folks living in southern Canada and along the U.S. northern border can see them too.

You’ll find no lack of sunspot groups on the sun today. This photo was taken by NASA’s Solar Dynamics Observatory this afternoon at 12:15 p.m. CST. Moderate solar flares are possible from Region 1944 (just entering the disk) and departing 1936. Credit: NASA

The sun has recently been more active with an M-class flare yesterday from the 1936 group and the potential for more. Be on the lookout this evening and next for a small display. With little to no moon in the sky, these are good times to look for auroras.

Guide to the Best Astronomical Sights of 2014

Orion climbs over snow-clad spruce trees to welcome in the new year. Credit: Bob King

As the 2013 comes to an end, we look back for a moment at the year’s biggest stories then telescope into the new year to check out all the astronomical sights that await us.

Here are my picks for 2013′s Top Ten stories in order of importance:

1. Chelyabinsk meteorite fall over Russia Feb. 15
2. Comet ISON’s dusty endComets Lovejoy and PANSTARRS pick up the slack
3. Curiosity discovers water-tumbled pebbles on Mars
4. China’s Chang’e 3 mission lands on the moon
5. Voyager I probe enters interstellar space
6. Juno’s extremely flyby of Earth en route to Jupiter
7. Cassini’s photo of Earth, Mars and Venus taken from Saturn
8. Kepler spacecraft’s demise and legacy of 3, 603 potential extrasolar planets
9. One of the brightest novae in years flares in Delphinus
10. U.S. government shutdown in October and its effects on NASA

Now on to 2014 and a brand new host of celestial offerings. For the record, the majority of events listed are western hemisphere-centric and visible with the naked eye or binoculars. Times and dates are Central Standard or Central Daylight as noted. Clear skies!


1 – The very first day of the year offers the opportunity for North American observers to break their personal “youngest crescent moon” record. The moon will be just 12 hours old from the Midwest and 14 hour from the West Coast.

Watch for meteors from the Quadrantid shower before dawn on Jan. 3. Credit: John Chumack

3 – The peak of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower with a sharp maximum occurring at 1:30 p.m. (CST) on 1/3. Best time for viewing from North America will be 5-6:30 a.m. Jan. 3. The evening crescent moon will not interfere; eastern hemisphere skywatchers will have a dark sky at peak.

5 – Jupiter at opposition to the sun in Gemini and closest and brightest for the year. The planet rises at sunset and stays up all night. Great time for telescope viewing!

11 – Venus passes between the Earth and sun at inferior conjunction. For a week on either side of this date, you can see the planet as an exceedingly thin crescent in the daytime sky.

14 – Venus reappears very low in the eastern dawn sky 30 minutes before sunrise about this time

31 – Mercury at greatest elongation east of the sun and well-placed for viewing during evening twilight. Joined by a very thin crescent moon this day.


14 – Give that special someone a big kiss under tonight’s Valentine’s Day full moon

26 – Spectacular close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus at dawn as seen from Europe and Africa. The two will be separated by only 0.3 degrees.


10 – The waxing gibbous moon occults the 3.6 magnitude star Lambda Geminorum for North America this evening.

Demonstration and path of the Erigone occultation of Regulus 

20 – Asteroid 167 Erigone occults the bright star Regulus for observers living in a 45-mile-wide (72 km) band from New York City into Ontario, Canada. For those in the center of the path, Regulus will blank out for 12 seconds. The whole event will be easily visible with the naked eye. More information HERE.

20 – Spring (vernal equinox) begins in the northern hemisphere at 11:57 a.m. (CST)

Ganymede and Io will cast their shadows on Jupiter’s cloud tops for North and South American skywatchers on March 23. Credit: Created with Claude Duplessis Meridian software

21 – Saturn and the waning gibbous moon in close conjunction only 0.3 degrees apart as seen from Europe and Africa. Western hemisphere observers will see them about 3 degrees apart.

22 – Venus reaches greatest elongation of 47 degrees west of the sun in the morning sky. Despite its great separation from the sun, the planet will stand only about 15 degrees high at sunrise from mid-northern latitudes.

23 – Double shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Io and Ganymede occurs from about 9:10-35 p.m. CDT. Easy to see in a small telescope.


8 – Mars at opposition and closest to the Earth since 2008. March-April will be the best time to observe the planet, when it’s up all night in the constellation Virgo near the bright star Spica and shining at magnitude -1.5, nearly as bright as Sirius.

The first of two total lunar eclipse in 2014 happens overnight April 15-16. Credit: NASA

15 – Total eclipse of the moon! The moon slips into Earth’s inner shadow starting at 12:58 a.m. CDT with maximum eclipse at 2:46 a.m. More information HERE.

15 – Asteroid Vesta at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 5.5. It should be easily visible with the naked eye from a dark sky site.

22 – Peak of the annual Lyrid meteor shower this morning with rates of 10-20 meteors per hour. Look to the south in wee hours before dawn. Some interference from the last quarter moon.

29 – Annular solar eclipse visible from Australia, the Southern Indian Ocean and Antarctica. More information HERE.


6 – Early morning peak of the annual Eta Aquarid meteor shower with rates of around 30 per hour. Each flash represents the burn-up of a small crumb left by Halley’s Comet.

10 – Saturn at opposition and brightest and closest for the year shining at magnitude 0. The rings will be inclined some 22 degrees to our line of sight, almost wide open. The planet will appear noticeably “out of round” in binoculars and present a beautiful sight in any size telescope.

24 - Possible big-time meteor shower from comet 209P/LINEAR when Earth passes through dust trails it deposited a century ago. Expect a peak between 2-3 a.m. (CST) with rates of 100+ per hour possible. No interference from the morning crescent moon.

25 – Mercury at greatest elongation east of the sun and easily visible low in the northwestern sky during evening twilight for observers in mid-northern latitudes.


3 – Triple shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede from 18:05 – 19:44 Greenwich time. Eastern Europe is favored. Not visible from the U.S.

21 – Start of summer (summer solstice) in the northern hemisphere at 12:51 a.m. CDT

Venus and the thin crescent at dawn on June 24. Stellarium

21 and for several days around this time – The International Space Station remains in sunlight throughout its orbit for northern hemisphere observers allowing us to see it on multiple passes throughout the night.

24 – Close conjunction of the crescent moon and Venus at dawn. With the moon so close you can use it to spot the planet even after sunrise.


5 – First quarter moon and Mars in conjunction less than a degree apart at dusk.

5 – Asteroids Ceres and Vesta – targets of NASA’s Dawn Mission – are less than 1/5 degree apart in Virgo during early evening hours. A rare event!

12 – The first of three “Super Moons” of 2014. The moon reaches perigee, closest to Earth, only 21 hours before it’s full and will appear slightly larger than a typical full moon.

29 – Peak of the annual Delta Aquarid meteor shower with a maximum of 20 per hour after midnight.


10 – Biggest Full Moon of the year! The moon turns full at 1:09 p.m. CDT. Nine minutes earlier it will have arrived at its closest point to Earth in 2014 of 221,765 miles (356,896 km).

12-13 – Peak of the annual Perseid meteor shower with rates of around 60-80 per hour. Spoiled this year by a bright moon just two days past full.

Comet Oukaimeden may glow around 8th magnitude in late August 2014 when it rises with the winter stars before dawn. Stellarium

18 – Spectacular close conjunction of Jupiter and Venus in the morning sky. They’ll be just 1/4 degree apart as seen from Europe and slightly wider by the time the pair rises for North and South American observers.

23 – Beautiful grouping of the thin crescent moon, Jupiter and Venus in the morning sky

25 – Mars and Saturn just 3.4 degrees apart in conjunction in the evening sky

27 – Comet C/2013 Oukaimeden should be within reach of binoculars in the morning sky near Orion.

29 – Neptune at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 7.8 in Aquarius


5 – Venus passes just 0.7 degrees north of Leo’s brightest star Regulus this morning in the east before sunrise.

8 – The final Super Moon of 2014 occurs 22 hours after perigee

22 – First day of fall (autumnal equinox) begins at 9:29 p.m. CDT in the northern hemisphere


Diagram show the moon’s path through Earth inner umbral shadow during the Oct. 8 total lunar eclipse. Credit: NASA

7 – Uranus at opposition and brightest for the year at magnitude 5.7 in Pisces

8 – Total eclipse of the moon, the second visible from the U.S. this year. Partial eclipse begins at 4:15 a.m. CDT with totality occurring from 5:25 – 6:24 a.m. Only the East Coast will miss a small portion of this eclipse. More information HERE.

19 – Comet C/2013 A1 Siding Spring encounters Mars. It will pass close enough that the coma may envelop the planet with a potential meteor storm to boot. Mars will be 151 million miles from Earth at the time and located in the constellation Ophiuchus and visible low in the southwestern sky at dusk.

18 – Comet C/2012 K1 PANSTARRS should be nearing peak brightness of magnitude 5.5. Mid-northern latitude observers can watch for it low in the southern sky in Puppis before dawn.

22 – The annual Orionid meteor shower peaks this morning with up to 25 meteors per hour visible. With the moon a day before new, dark skies will rule.

Diagram showing the visibility of the Oct. 23 partial solar eclipse. Credit: NASA

23 – Partial solar eclipse visible across the U.S. and Canada during late afternoon hours. At maximum for the central U.S. about half the sun will be covered by the moon. Click HERE for more information.



1 – Mercury reaches greatest elongation west of the sun and shines brightly at magnitude -0.5 in the morning sky for skywatchers in mid-northern latitudes. Best morning appearance of the year.

17 – Peak of the annual Leonid meteor shower. This year is an off-year for the Leonids with only 10-15 meteors visible per hour. Glare from the thick waning crescent moon will interfere somewhat.


7 – Double shadow transit of Jupiter’s moons Europa and Io occurs from 10:18 – 10:27 p.m. CST. They shadows will be on exactly opposite sides of the planet.

14 – Peak of the annual Geminid meteor shower, one of the richest and most reliable meteor showers with rates topping 100 per hour. Expect maximum activity overnight Dec. 13-14. Some interference from the last quarter moon after midnight.

21 – Start of winter (winter solstice) at 5:03 p.m. CST

If you know of an important event that I may have missed, please drop me a line at

Thanks everyone and enjoy a Happy New Year!