This year is poised to be a big one for space exploration. By midyear, the revolutionary James Webb Space Telescope will likely be fully operational, allowing astronomers to peer deeper in space than ever before to capture early galaxies and distant planets.
But there is plenty to be seen without the help of a $10 billion telescope positioned a million miles from Earth.
From Maryland, observers will be able to catch two lunar eclipses, two planetary conjunctions and some meteor showers in 2022 — all with the naked eye.
Here are some celestial sights to look out for in the New Year:
Look to the skies in early January to catch the six-hour peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. For observers in the Northern Hemisphere, the shower will be best visible between midnight and dawn Jan. 3, away from urban light pollution, according to the American Meteor Society. Astronomers recommend facing the northeast quadrant of the sky and looking about halfway up. When weather conditions cooperate, you may be able to see dozens of meteors an hour.
From Jan. 3 to 5, you may be able to catch the thin crescent moon passing beside Venus, Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter in turn. On the 3rd, the moon will be rather close to Mercury and Venus, and the glare may make the planets difficult to spot. Try a pair of binoculars. But seeing Saturn beside the moon on the 4th and Jupiter beside the moon on the 5th should be possible, if conditions cooperate.
On Jan. 4 at 1:52 a.m., Earth will be at the end of its elliptical orbit closest to the sun — a point known as perihelion. That day’s sunrise at 7:26 a.m. will be one of the latest of the year.
From Feb. 11 to 16, look to the southeast sky about 40 minutes before sunrise to catch Earth’s three nearest neighbors — Mercury, Venus and Mars.
Then, cast your eyes to the southeast an hour before sunrise on Feb. 27 to catch the crescent moon in line with Mars and Venus. With a pair of binoculars, away from city lights, you might be able to catch the asteroid Vesta nearby.
The vernal equinox arrives on March 20 at 11:33 a.m. On that day, the first of spring, the length of day and night will be roughly equal, before the days grow longer.
On March 28, a bright Venus, accompanied by a dimmer Mars and Saturn, will join the moon in the southeast sky an hour before sunrise.
On the morning of April 4, Mars and Saturn will nearly merge in the sky, in what’s known as a conjunction. Saturn will be the brighter of the two. The next morning, the two planets will switch positions. Look to the southeast about an hour before sunrise.
That evening, about an hour after sunset, several star clusters will be well positioned for viewing: the Pleiades cluster (also known as the Seven Sisters), the Aldebaran star (the “eye” of the Taurus bull) and the V-shaped Hyades cluster will all join the moon in the sky. Look to the northwest.
In late April, the Lyrid meteor shower will hit its peak. Between sunset on April 21 and the early morning, look to the northeast. This shower, which can produce about 10 to 15 meteors an hour, is known for rare outbursts of as much as 100 meteors an hour.
On April 30,
observers in Maryland will be able to see Jupiter and Venus meet in conjunction. Because of the planets’ glares, they may even appear as one in the sky. The next day, the two planets will switch positions.
In early May, look for the Eta Aquarid meteor shower. Astronomers say the best time to meteor-hunt will be the hour or two before dawn on May 5. The night’s crescent moon will set around midnight, allowing for better viewing conditions. In the southern U.S., as many as 10 to 20 meteors an hour may be visible.
Around 11:30 p.m. on May 15, the moon over Baltimore will take on a reddish glow amid the year’s first total lunar eclipse. From then until to 12:53 a.m. on the 16th, the moon will sit completely in the Earth’s shadow, creating one of the year’s most spectacular sights.
June 14 is the first of three so-called “supermoons”. The night’s full moon may appear a bit larger and brighter than normal, since the moon will be near its closest approach to Earth. This moon has also been dubbed the Strawberry Moon, since it coincides with the zenith of the strawberry harvest.
2022′s summer solstice, the longest day of the year, will be June 21. On this day, the Earth’s Northern Hemisphere will be tilted closest to the Sun.
The earliest sunrise of the year will be on June 13 or 14 at 5:39 a.m., and the latest sunset of the year will be on June 27 or 28 at 8:37 p.m.
On Independence Day, the Earth will reach its aphelion — its farthest point from the Sun — at 3:10 a.m. in Baltimore.
The year’s second “supermoon” is July 13. That full moon has been nicknamed the Buck Moon, since it aligns with the time of year male deer would begin to grow their antlers.
Late July might be a good time for a warm-weather meteor-watching session. The Delta Aquariids will peak around July 29 and 30. The best time to watch this shower, which offers a maximum of 15 to 20 faint meteors an hour, is usually an hour or two before dawn.
Unfortunately, 2022 is not a great year for the normally rich Perseid meteor shower, because the predicted peak — Aug. 11 and 12 — falls during a full moon. But this shower has a fairly long range: from July 14 to Sept. 1. Look to the sky in the early morning hours in early August, after the moon has set, or look between sunset and moonrise after the shower’s peak. These meteors often leave persistent trains, and are visible in all parts of the sky.
Aug. 12 is the year’s final “supermoon.” Often called the Sturgeon Moon, it’s named after the fish native to the Great Lakes.
Two days later, Saturn will be at opposition, meaning the ringed planet will be as close as it gets to Earth. Any time that night will be a great time to view the planet, and with at least a medium-sized telescope, you’ll likely be able to see its rings and some of its moons.
The night of Sept. 16, Neptune will reach its closest point relative to Earth. But even at its brightest, the planet appears as little more than a blue dot on most telescopes due to its great distance from Earth.
Just after 9 p.m. on Sept. 22, Earth’s two hemispheres will again receive equal amounts of light for the autumnal equinox. From that day forward, the nighttime hours will outweigh the daylight, until the spring of 2023.
Sept. 26 is a great time to view Jupiter, which will be making its closest approach to Earth. Spot the planet and some of its larger moons with a pair of binoculars, or look through a telescope to see Jupiter’s cloud bands at their brightest.
Last year’s Orionid meteor shower was somewhat drowned out by a bright moon, but this year’s is poised to be better. This shower, which radiates from the club of the Orion constellation, can produce a maximum of 10 to 20 meteors an hour in good conditions, and the occasional bright fireball. Look in the hours before dawn on Oct. 21 for best viewing.
Early risers are likely to catch the year’s second total lunar eclipse. Starting at 5:16 a.m. on Nov. 8, the full eclipse will end with the sunrise. Because the moon will be close to the horizon, it’s recommended to find a high point to view the eclipse, with an uninhibited view west-northwest.
The next night is the best opportunity you’ll get to see distant Uranus. The planet will be shining its brightest that night, but even with a telescope it will be rather small.
On the night of Nov. 17, the Leonid meteor shower will be at its peak. This shower, which produced a notably spectacular meteor storm in 1966, radiates from the Leo the Lion constellation. That night, the best viewing will be between midnight and the rise of the crescent moon at about 2 a.m.
The year’s earliest sunset will take place on Dec. 7 at 4:43 p.m.
Look to Mars on the night of Dec. 8, when it will be shining the most brightly. With a telescope, you may even be able to see some of the details on the red planet’s surface.
Meteor enthusiasts should consider venturing out in the cold on the night of Dec. 13 before midnight, when the Geminid meteor shower hits its peak. Unfortunately, this year’s shower occurs only six days after a full moon, meaning the moon’s brightness may make it more difficult to see. But the high rate of meteors makes this shower attractive nonetheless — 50 or more meteors an hour, at times.
The winter solstice takes place on Dec. 21 — the year’s shortest day.