Some of the best things in life are free, including stargazing. Mother Nature is a huge show-off, and her flair for the dramatic is unmatched. From powerful storms to breathtaking night skies, we get to enjoy these performances at no cost.
This year, Mother Nature has quite the celestial setlist. Now through December, you can enjoy extraordinary planetary movement, meteor showers, and eclipses. The majority of these events will be visible to the naked eye.
So, all you need is a dark sky—comfy blankets recommended, but not required. Mark your calendars now; you’re not going to want to miss any of these starry shows.
1. March 24th-April 5th: Planetary Dance
Venus and Mars are currently in conjunction flying side-by-side in space. The planets are slowly approaching Saturn. Starting March 24th, Venus, Mars, and Saturn will be visible in a triangular cluster in the low SE skies. The best viewing time is an hour before sunrise.
Mother Nature plays the ultimate April Fool’s Prank when, on April 1st, the planets visibly shift into a straight line. Finally, Saturn will appear to approach Mars. The red and ringed planet reach peak closeness on April 5th.
2. April 30th: Venus-Jupiter Conjunction
Later that same month, we have another planetary showstopper. Just before dawn on April 30th, Venus and Jupiter reach conjunction. From our vantage point on Earth, the two planets appear to merge into one star. You’ll need binoculars or a telescope and a bit of lucky timing.
Since this conjunction happens so close to sunrise, you’ll have to catch this event just before the dawn sky begins to brighten. Find an unobstructed line of sight toward the SE horizon. Look for a small star and a noticeably bigger star twinkling close together.
3. May 5th-6th: Eta Aquarids
Planets are impressive, but the real show stoppers are the meteor showers. These remarkable displays occur several times a year and are named after the constellation from which they appear to radiate. Some showers produce more shooting stars than others.
The Eta Aquarids will take place pre-dawn on May 5th. This shower will appear to radiate from Aquarius on the SE horizon. North America can expect only a modest show of about 10-20 meteors an hour. However, it might be worth trying to catch a glimpse of a rogue meteor.
Debris from Halley’s comet forms the Eta Aquarids, which means you might be to see at least a small part of the comet before its return to Earth’s atmosphere in 2061.
4. May 15th-16th: Flower Moon Total Lunar Eclipse
A total lunar eclipse occurs when the Earth passes between the Sun and the Moon. Earth’s shadow shades the Moon, giving it a unique, reddish appearance. Unlike solar eclipses, you can view full and partial lunar eclipses with the naked eye.
The Flower Moon, named for its springtime appearance, will begin to go dark at 9:32 pm ET on May 15th. It will reach its peak redness and darkness at 12:11 am ET, May 16th.
5. June 18th-27th: Major Planetary Alignment
Two months after Venus and Mars separate, the planets realign—this time with friends. Starting June 18th, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, and Uranus will line up across the early morning sky.
As if Mother Nature were conducting a planetary roll call, the Moon will pass by each planet for easy ID. This lunar assistance will be particularly helpful on June 24th and 25th when a crescent moon passes by Uranus. Finally, on 27th, the Moon will help point out the faint and elusive Mercury.
6. July 28th-29th: Delta Aquarids
Like the Eta Aquarids, the Delta Aquarids appear to radiate from the constellation Aquarius. This meteor shower is the most visible in the southern United States. Thanks to a new Moon on July 28th, the usually small, humble shower will get an extra visibility boost.
To catch the Delta Aquarids, look to the sky just before dawn. Around 10-20 meteors will shoot across the sky per hour, so you’ll need to pay close attention.
7. August 11th-13th: The Perseids
The Perseids usually blow the Delta Aquarids out of the water. But this year, the two might be more similar in show. The Perseids appear to radiate from Perseus in early August. These late summer showers can produce 150-200 meteors per hour, making for a dazzling display.
Unfortunately, the Perseids coincide with a full Moon this year. Not even the Perseids’ impressive fireballs can beat that glare. So, if you want to catch a Perseid (or 200), wait to stargaze until two to three hours before dawn.
8. November 7th-8th: Total Lunar Eclipse
North and South America, Australia, Asia, and parts of Europe can enjoy another total lunar eclipse in early November. The western US will be able to see this eclipse in its entirety, while eastern North America will only see partial phases as the Moon sets in the west.
The eclipse will begin on November 7th, 2:02 am PT. The Moon will enter the deepest part of Earth’s shadow at 2:59 am PT, and at 3:41, the eclipse ends.
9. November 11th-18th: The Leonids
In 1966, thousands of meteors streaked across the sky in a matter of minutes. The Leonid Meteor Shower produced so many shooting stars that they fell like rain. No Leonid display has lived up to that breathtaking show since. Still, you never know what Mother Nature has up her sleeve.
Beginning in the evening of November 17th through just after midnight on the 18th, the Leonids will send 10-15 meteors per hour across the sky. You might see nothing, or you might catch an unexpected, once-in-a-lifetime meteor storm.
10. December 13th-14th: The Geminids
The last stargazing event of 2022 will take place on the evening of December 13th and the morning of the 14th. As its name suggests, the Geminids radiate from Castor and Pollux, two bright stars in the Gemini constellation.
You can catch the Geminids from just before midnight until about 2 am local time. On a dark night, you can see over 50 meteors per hour. A waning gibbous moon might block some visibility later in the night, but your chances of spotting a shooting star are still pretty high.