Celestial Events of 2012
Is there anything more humbling or awe inspiring than astronomy? Realizing the scale of that vast darkness above puts life into perspective. We love looking skyward as much as you, and we're looking forward to another great year of discovery. In 2012, we'll see shooting stars streak the blackness with vibrant color, the mighty sun blotted out by a modest moon, the furthest planets of our solar system illuminated for the briefest of moments, and events like the Transit of Venus that come but once in a lifetime. Follow our calendar of 2012 celestial events and be sure you don't get left in the dark!
January 3 and 4, 2012: The Quadrantid Meteor Shower
Look to the Northeast, to Bootes the herdsman, to see the first meteor shower of the new year. Expect a short peak with dazzling blue lights.
February 20 - March 12, 2012: A Look at Mercury
Mercury's orbit slings it far enough from the sun's glare to be visible after sunset. The best view will come on March 5, right after sunset.
March 3, 2012: Mars at Opposition
The Red Planet will be the fourth-brightest object in the night's sky. The opposition of Mars is also the closest Earth will come to its neighbor for the whole year. Fully illuminated and up-close, there is no better time to view the surface of Mars which hangs to the east, below Leo.
March 14, 2012: Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter
Venus and Jupiter, separated by 416.3 million miles, will appear as close neighbors to us on Earth this night. They will also look relatively the same size, though Jupiter is a bit more than 8 times the size of its dance partner.
April 15th, 2012: Saturn at Opposition
Fully illuminated by the sun and the closest to Earth it will ever be again, Saturn, its moons, and its magnificent rings will be at their most visible.
April 21 and 22, 2012: Lyrids Meteor Shower
It may not be the biggest meteor shower, but it's one of the most fun and unpredictable displays you'll likely see this year. The Lyrids Meteor Shower has a knack for outbursts of up to 100 meteors an hour for quite the light show. Unfortunately, this year's shower comes at a waning gibbous moon and will be difficult to see due to the bright moonlight outshining the Lyrids.
May 5 and 6, 2012: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
A waxing crescent moon makes for perfect viewing conditions for these pieces of Halley's Comet. That's right, the Eta Aquarids shower is made up of the famous comet's debris. Expect to see bright and incredibly fast shooting stars, around 60 to 120 per hour.
May 20, 2012: Annular Eclipse
Residents of the United States, Southeast Asia, and the Pacific islands will see a partial eclipse. The Moon's antumbral shadow begins over China and will end over eastern Texas.
June 4, 2012: Partial Lunar Eclipse
It won't be particularly striking, but a lunar eclipse will be visible on this date to almost everyone except for Africa, Europe, Greenland, and western Asia.
June 5 and 6, 2012: Transit of Venus
This is easily the year's most anticipated celestial event. What is it? Venus passes between the Earth and Sun which means we'll see a small black dot cross the disc of the sun. The last time this happened was in 2004, but the next transit of Venus isn't until 2117! Count yourself lucky that you were here for such a rare occasion. The best place for viewing is the Pacific Ocean.
July 15, 2012: The Day the Moon Hides Jupiter
Those in Southern England are in for quite a sight as this lunar occulation cloaks Jupiter from 1:50 a.m. UT until 3:10 a.m. UT. It will be an especially bright event perfect for astrophotography.
July 15, 2012: Annular Eclipse
The moon is at its furthest point away from the Earth as it passes before the Sun. Since it's so far away, it's not going to be a total eclipse, making a spectacular ring effect. Expect it to begin around 6 p.m. PST in the United States and for it all to pass in less than five minutes. Remember, don't look directly into the Sun.
July 28 and 29, 2012: Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower
Always dependable, the Southern Delta Aquarids dazzle us at the end of July or beginning of August each year. This is a reasonably impressive shower with 15 to 20 meteors an hour. As always, the Southern Hemisphere will have the best view.
August 12 and 13, 2012: Peak of the Perseid Meteor Shower
The most famous of all meteor showers, the Perseids, consistently amaze. This year, conditions will hardly be ideal on account of a bright full moon. Still, you will see a good show with 30 to 50 meteors per hour at the shower's peak on August 12 and 13. The shower itself will begin on the 17th of July and cease activity on the 24th of August. Gaze to the Northeast.
August 24, 2012: Neptune at Opposition
Neptune's proximity to Earth and full illumination thanks to the Sun make for ideal viewing conditions that only occur every few years. And with Neptune rising as the Sun sets, we get to enjoy a full night of observation!
September 29, 2012: Uranus at Opposition
There's no night like tonight to take a close look at Uranus.
October 21 and 22, 2012: Orionids Meteor Shower
With an unpredictable maximum amount of meteors, the Orionids meteor shower is always a fun one to watch. Typically, however, this remnant dust of Halley's Comet shows rate of 10 to 15 meteors per hour at its peak and this year it will be obstructed by a waning crescent moon. If you can get past the moon's glare, look to the Southeast for flashes of yellow and green near Orion.
November 13, 2012: Total Solar Eclipse
Quite the rare occurrence, the totality of an eclipse can only exist on that narrow path of the Moon's umbra for the briefest of moments. This year, the lucky ones are Northern Australians and a select few in the southern Pacific Ocean. The rest of us will just have to wait our turn.
November 17 and 18, 2012: Leonids Meteor Shower
This is probably the coolest cloud of junk and debris that the Earth passes through, but sadly this isn't the big year. Every 33 years we pass through the major portion of this cloud and see a breathtaking display of hundreds of thousands (not a typo) of meteors per hour. That's not going to happen again until 2023, but don't let that get you down. The annual Leonids shower is still an impressive show of 30 or so shooting stars an hour in colors of yellow and blue. Look to the East.
November 27, 2012: Conjunction of Venus and Saturn
Venus sure does like to show off this year, huh? Look to the East at sunrise to see it and Saturn within one single degree of each other.
November 28, 2012: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse
The second lunar eclipse of the year will be visible to pretty much everyone but South America and Western Africa. Expect it to start at 12:15 UT and last about four and a half hours.
December 3, 2012: Jupiter at Opposition
The last time we saw Jupiter it was hanging out with Venus in the night's sky. The two looked pretty similar in size then, but now it's back, much closer, and here to remind us just how tiny we all are.
December 12 - 14, 2012: The Geminid Meteor Shower
Also known as "Winter's Fireworks," the Geminid shower is the year's final shower and the last major celestial event of 2012. It will be obstructed by a waning gibbous moon, but let's cross our fingers that it won't be too distracting as flashes of green, red, yellow, white, and blue light up the night's sky. Look to the East.