Looking for a free way to make memories and learn some science at the same time? The skies hold the answer!
May 15, 2022
The first of the pair falls the night of May 15. A slight darkening of the bottom left of the moon will begin around 9:32 p.m. Eastern time, but it will hardly look any different to most untrained observers. That’s the brighter, more diffuse part of the Earth’s shadow, called the penumbra, swinging across the moon. A more prominent darkening will start at 10:27 p.m. as the umbra, or the darkest, densest part of the Earth’s shadow, works in.
This eclipse will be optimal for viewers in the eastern Lower 48, where the entire eclipse will be visible. Across the Pacific Coast and the Intermountain West, the eclipse will get going before moonrise, but some of its later stages will be visible.
Totality gets going at 11:29 p.m. Eastern, peaking 12:11 a.m. before ending at 12:53 a.m. The partial eclipse wraps up at 1:55 a.m. During totality, the moon will be plunged into almost complete darkness. Instead of disappearing into the night sky, it’ll be bathed in a glowing amber hue as sunlight streaming through the edges of Earth’s atmosphere is bent back toward the moon. In essence, the light from all of Earth’s sunrises and sunsets will be simultaneously projected onto the lunar backdrop.
Astronomers rate the color of lunar eclipses on the Danjon Scale, which ranges from 0 to 4. Values around zero represent a nearly invisible moon that is dark enough to almost blend in with the surrounding night sky. Total lunar eclipses that score a value of 4 are copper-colored and slightly orange, sometimes with a bluish rim. The amount of pollution in the atmosphere has a bearing on what color is realized.
Nov. 8, 2022
A second total lunar eclipse is slated for the morning of Nov. 8. This time around it’s the West Coast that’s favored for viewing. The East Coast will still see the entirety of totality, but morning moonset will take place before the partial phases end.
Partiality will start at 4:09 a.m. Eastern time, and totality will commence just over an hour later at 5:16 a.m. Eastern. The eclipse will be at its maximum magnitude around 6 a.m. Eastern before the Earth’s shadow gradually withdraws from the moon beginning at 6:41 a.m. In Washington D.C., sunrise comes at 6:43 a.m.
There will be partial solar eclipses on April 30 and Oct. 25, but neither will be visible from North America.
Every year hosts a variety of meteor showers, but only two — the August Perseids and the December Geminids — are truly worth staying up for. The others feature a trickle of sporadic shooting stars with a small handful over the course of a night, whereas these two prominent showers can sling dozens overhead every hour.
Perseids: Aug. 12-13
The Perseids peak on the night of Aug. 12 into Aug. 13. They’re the result of tiny pebble-sized piece of interstellar debris left in the wake of Comet Swift-Tuttle, which last passed by Earth in 1992. Those pieces burn up in Earth’s outer atmosphere as they disintegrate at speeds approaching 37 miles per second. The resulting combustion produces light that shines shades of green, purple, pink and orange.
This year’s show will be somewhat spoiled by a nearly full moon, which will be up most of the night. Still, the Perseids are rich in fireballs, or meteors brighter than the planet Venus, which will outshine even the pale, inescapable whitewash of moonlight.
Geminids: Dec. 14-15
The Geminids are spurred by minuscule rocks shed by a 3.6-mile-wide asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon. Their elemental composition favors green meteors, and a slower rate of speed — 22 miles per second — means their shimmering trails are visible in the night sky for longer.
Once again, the moon won’t cooperate, but at least there will be some window of opportunity to view the show. In most places, the waning gibbous moon, which will be two-thirds illuminated, will set around midnight.
Spotting a planet in the night sky is always a special experience, but sometimes several gather at once. Those planetary rendezvous are sometimes called “conjunctions,” and 2022 will include a few of them.
EarthSky reports that Venus, Mars and Saturn will be grouped closely together about an hour before sunrise through early April. The closest pass of Venus and Saturn came on March 28, when the pair was joined by the waning crescent moon. Mars and Saturn will be closest on the mornings of April 4 and 5.
Between April 30 and May 1, Venus and Jupiter will nearly overlap in the morning sky. Look to the southeast in the predawn hours.
Perhaps the most spectacular lineup of planets, not technically a conjunction, will come on the morning of June 23, according to Smithsonian Magazine. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will all line up, with Venus and Jupiter the brightest. Skywatchers should look southeast in the morning twilight; Mercury will be on the bottom left, and Saturn highest up on the right. Uranus could be visible beyond Saturn, but that would require dark skies and a telescope.