Comet Lovejoy from the ISS! (Credit: NASA).
It’s here, the most vaunted astronomical post of the year; what’s happening in the sky in 2012! Just think; while your well-meaning but astronomically oblivious friends/co-workers/relatives fear the coming Mayan prophecy, YOU can be hip and “in the know” on upcoming astronomical events in 2012! (Hint; the end of the world is NOT one of them!) As always, the rules here at Astroguyz HQ are simple; to “make the cut,” an event must be unique, widely observable, and/or sufficiently bizarre… no laundry list of Moon phases or “Neptune is stationary in Ophiuchus” allowed. Just think; we scour the best & weirdest of the astronomical web and more, and put it all in one handy little reference document, just for you! Times are stated in Universal Time on a 24-hour clock, and links are provided to the piles o’ data that these were refined from.
A Short note: do not despair if an event such as an occultation of a bright planet by the Moon is listed as “only visible from Antarctica,” as the rest of us will still see a noteworthy close conjunction. Follow our Twitter feed and our weekly Astro-Event posts for more detail on each event, plus other obsessive minutiae! So here we go, a distillation of the “Best of the Best” coming to a sky near you in 2012:
- 1st: Kreutz group sungrazer C/2011 W3 Lovejoy is receding but should remain bright for southern hemisphere observers as it heads back out into the outer solar system with a solar elongation on the 1st of 44° degrees.
- 4th: The 1st meteor shower of 2012, the Quadrantid meteors peak at 07:00 Universal Time (UT) with a Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) of 60-120. This shower favors the North American east coast this year, with a waxing gibbous Moon at 79% illumination.
- 5th: Earth reaches perihelion at 1:00UT, at a distance of 147,097,202 kilometers from the Sun.
- 7th: The International Space Station (ISS) is illuminated throughout the length of its orbit for the next four days, making for copious sightings worldwide.
- 9th: An occultation of a +8.3 magnitude star by asteroid 75 Eurydike occurs at 03:11 UT across Mexico, the Southern US, and Africa.
- 12th: Russia’s failed Phobos-Grunt spacecraft is predicted to re-enter ± 5 days of this date.
- 13th: Venus is within 1.2 degrees of Neptune in a close conjunction.
- 14th: Kicking off cometary action in 2012, P/2006 T1 Levy reaches perihelion at 0.9 Astronomical Units (AU) from the Sun. Comet Levy passes within 0.2 AU of the Earth later in the month, and may reach magnitude +7 as it moves through the constellation Cetus in the evening sky.
- 19th: Occultation of a +8.0 magnitude star by asteroid 911 Agamemnon at 11:36 UT, visible across the eastern United States, Canada and Russia.
- 30th: Occultation of a +7.0 magnitude star by asteroid 1746 Brouwer at 01:18 UT, visible across southeastern Canada and the USA.
- 31st: 433 Eros passes 26,500,000 kilometers from Earth as a +8.5 magnitude speck in the constellation Sextans.
- 1st: February 2012 is a “Missing Moon phase” month as reckoned in Universal Time, missing 1st Quarter on Leap Day by 1 hour & 21 minutes!
- 3rd: C/2009 P1 Comet Garradd may reach naked eye visibility as it tracks northward through Draco this month, attaining a brightness of +5 magnitude in pre-dawn skies. Garradd was a dependable performer in 2011 & is set to be the best predicted comet of the year for northern hemisphere viewers.
- 9th: Venus has a close conjunction with the planet Uranus at 0.3° degrees of separation.
The 2003 opposition of Mars. (Photos by Author).
- 2nd: Moon occults Zeta Tauri centered on 5:22 UT, visible from northern US/Canada to Greenland.
- 3rd: Mars reaches opposition, an unfavorable one in the constellation Leo due to the fact that aphelion for the Red Planet occurred on February 15th; Mars will shine at -1.2 magnitude at about 14” arc seconds across at opposition, still one of the top astronomical highlights of the year. This is also a good time to try to sight the elusive Martian moons of Deimos and Phobos!
- 5th: Best evening elongation of Mercury for northern hemisphere viewers, 18° from the Sun.
- 13th A close Jupiter-Venus conjunction, only 3° degrees apart in dusk skies.
- 21st: Asteroid 5 Astraea occults an +8.3 magnitude star, visible across Africa, Portugal, and Eastern Canada.
- 23rd: Asteroid 2883 Barabashov transits in front of Uranus… a tough to observe event!
- 3rd: Venus is near the Pleiades at sunset, on a cycle of transits in front of the open cluster occurring every 8 years until 2060.
- 12th: The planet Pluto starts a series of nine occultations by the Moon in 2012… very tough if not impossible to observe!
- 15th: Saturn reaches opposition. The planet’s system of rings are tipped open at about a 15° degree angle for 2012.
- 22rd: The Lyrid meteor shower peaks at 05:00 UT. With a ZHR of 15-20, this shower favors Western Europe this year. Moon phase will be a favorable 1% illuminated waxing crescent.
- 30th: Venus reaches greatest illuminated extent at -4.5 magnitude, bright enough to be visible in broad daylight.
- 4th: Venus at a northernmost declination at 27.82° degrees north latitude, its farthest north until 2239 AD.
- 6th: A Perigee Moon, or closest Full Moon of the year, sometimes informally dubbed a “Super Moon” as perigee occurs within an hour of Full at 3:35UT. Possibility for Proxigean Tide, or extreme high tides around this date.
- 20th: A Black Moon occurs, in the sense of the third New Moon of a calendar season that contains four of them.
- 23nd: Moon occults the star Zeta Tauri at 2:00 UT, visible across central United States and Mexico.
Where will YOU be June 5th/6th? (Credit Michael Zeiler At Eclipse Maps).
- 4th A partial eclipse of the Moon occurs, visible across North and South America, Australia, and the Far East. Moon is a maximum of 37% eclipsed at 11:04 UT.
- 5th: Venus transits the face of the Sun as seen from the Earth. This transit will be visible from the eastern US at sunset westward to northeastern Africa and Europe at sunrise… don’t miss this celestial happening of our lifetimes, as another transit won’t be visible until December 11th, 2117!
- 5th: The ISS is fully illuminated throughout the length of its orbit for the next four days.
- 12th: Asteroid 1761 Edmondson transits in front of Jupiter, another tough to observe event!
- 17th: The Moon occults Jupiter at 8:00 UT for viewers in the high Arctic.
- 2nd: Asteroid 52 Europa occults a +11.3 magnitude star, visible across Mexico and the southern USA.
- 5th: The Earth is at aphelion, or its farthest point from the Sun at 3:00UT, at a distance of 152,092,400 kilometers.
- 9th: Jupiter, Venus & Aldebaran are visible in a tight 1° degree grouping at dawn.
- 14th: Comet 96P/Machholz 1 reaches a perihelion of only 0.12 AU, and may reach magnitude +9.0 as it crosses into the constellation Gemini in the evening sky.
- 14th-17th: The Moon joins the Jupiter-Venus grouping and occults Jupiter at 03:00 UT on the 15th for viewers across the Europe-Asia region.
- 21st: Mars is near the 10th magnitude galaxy NGC 4546 in the constellation Virgo.
A close 2009 pass of the Moon and a daylight Venus. (Photo by Author).
- 3rd: Asteroid 185 Eunike occults a +5.9 magnitude star, visible from western Mexico.
- 11th: The Moon occults Jupiter across the Pacific region at 21:00 UT, and then Venus on the 13th across North America centered on 20:00 UT, one of the best planetary occultations of the year.
- 16th: Venus and Mercury reach mutual elongation within 1.1 days of each other. Mercury will be located between Castor, Pollux, and the Moon on the morning of the 16th, and M44 will be hovering near by.
- 21st: Moon occults Spica as seen from the Antarctic, one of five Spica occultations by the Moon to occur in 2012.
- 24th: Neptune reaches opposition, a good time to try your hand at Neptunian moon spotting.
- 31st: A Blue Moon occurs, in the sense of the 2nd Full Moon of the month.
- 8th: Moon occults Jupiter centered on 11:00 UT over South America and occults the asteroid 1 Ceres at 09:00 UT on the 9th for observers across North America and Europe.
- 16th: Asteroid 363 Padua occults a +2.7 magnitude star (Zubenelgenubi or Alpha Librae) at 20:09 UT, visible from Western Africa and the US in daylight. This is the brightest star to be occulted by an asteroid in 2012.
- 18th: Moon occults Spica as seen from the Antarctic.
- 25th: Moon occults the star Beta Capricorni at 8:00 UT as seen from the southwestern US.
- 29th: The planet Uranus reaches opposition, a good time to try your hand at Uranian moon spotting.
- 3rd: Venus has a close (0.5° degrees) conjunction with the bright star Regulus.
- 5th: Moon occults Jupiter as seen from southern Australia and Tasmania centered on 21:00 UT.
- 7th: Asteroid 3 Juno occults a +8.4 magnitude star at 07:53 UT, as seen from New Zealand.
- 17th: Moon occults Mercury as seen from Alaska at 02:00 UT.
- 20th: The Orionid meteors peak at around midnight UT on the 20th/21st with a ZHR of 20-30. This favors central Asia with a Moon phase at waxing crescent and 32% illumination.
- 28th: Asteroid 13 Egeria occults a +8.1 magnitude star at 00:44 UT as seen from Russia, Europe and North Africa.
The path of totality across the Pacific. (Credit Fred Espenak/NASA/GSFC).
- 2nd: Moon occults Jupiter twice this month, 1st over South Africa at 01:00 UT on the 2nd, and again on the 29th over nearly the same region at 01:00 UT…Comet 2/P Encke may also become a binocular object during this month.
- 13th: A Total Solar Eclipse occurs, visible across the South Pacific and Australia.
- 17th: The Leonid meteors peak at 9:00 UT with a ZHR of 10-20. This will favor North America along with an 18% illuminated waxing crescent Moon.
- 18th: Mars in conjunction with the nebula M8, then moves on to a close passage by M22 on the 28th.
- 27th: Venus-Saturn are in conjunction only 40’ apart in the dawn skies.
- 28th: A Penumbral Lunar Eclipse and the Smallest Full Moon of the Year occurs at 14:46 UT. Penumbral is visible worldwide except from South America and western Africa.
Planetary line-up for the morning of December 3rd from mid-northern latitudes.
(Created by the author in Starry Night).
- 3rd: Mercury, Venus, Saturn form a line 15° degrees long for a triple conjunction in the morning skies, the same date as the opposition of the planet Jupiter.
- 4th: Mercury reaches its best morning elongation for the northern hemisphere, 21° degrees from the Sun.
- 5th: Asteroid 521 Brixia occults an +8.9 magnitude star at 23:58 UT as seen across Arabia, Africa, and NE North America and also occults a 7.8 magnitude star across Asia and Europe on the 11th at 18:44 UT.
- 13th: The Geminid meteors peak at about 23:59UT with a ZHR of 120. This favors Eastern Europe and the Middle East. Moon phase is 0% New, and this is most likely to be the best meteor shower of the year.
- 15th: Near Earth Asteroid 4179 Toutatis will pass near the bright star Aldebaran days after a 0.046 AU passage by Earth, shining at +10 magnitude.
- 26th: Moon occults Jupiter centered on 00:01 UT for viewers across South America and southern Africa.
- 29th: The ISS is illuminated throughout the length of its orbit for the remainder of the year.
Did we miss your favorite “must see” event in 2012? Let us know about it! Also, keep a (properly filtered) eye on Sol, as we head towards a peak in solar activity in early 2013 and a solar maximum for cycle #24 Also, watch this space, as an undiscovered bright comet and/or near Earth asteroid could present itself at any time. Comet 2011 L4 PanSTARRS may be the surprise performer at the start of 2013 pending approval from the apocalypse…more on that (the comet, that is) as astro-news develops in 2012. Cheers!