No matter where you are in the world there is a great beauty to be seen if you merely turn your attention … up. Our pale blue dot is a miracle suspended in a great expanse of wonders that can be observed by all who take time to appreciate and be humbled by our place in the cosmos. Past the skyscrapers, the smog, and the city lights is a night sky filled with colorful meteorites, roaring comets, neighboring worlds, and the pale signal of stars that may have long since burned out. The right telescope peers into the great unknown to bring back an image that inspires awe and ignites the imagination. That's why we've assembled our calendar of 2013 celestial events … so that you never miss the great marvels our milky way has to offer.
January 3 - 4, 2013: Quadrantids Meteor Shower
With up to 40 meteors per hour at their peak, the Quadrantids puts on an above-average lightshow. This shower peaks on January 3rd and 4th, but you could see a few shooting stars as early as New Year's Eve. After midnight, look to the northeast and the constellation Bootes.
January 21, 2013: Jupiter and Moon Conjunction
North Americans, tilt your heads up toward the heavens! There's no need for a telescope here and even those living in brightly lit cities can appreciate the waxing gibbous moon, 78-percent illuminated as it passes less than a degree south of Jupiter. These two bright luminaries will make their closest approach high in the evening sky for all to see. Even more interesting is the fact that this will be the closest moon and Jupiter conjunction we'll see for another 13 years!
February 15, 2013: Asteroid 2012 DA14 Doesn't Destroy Us
Get out your star charts! Asteroid 2012 DA14 will pass within 35,000 miles of the Earth and while small telescopes and mounted binoculars are powerful enough to witness this asteroid fly by it will take a considerable amount of skill to locate it properly. Although Asteroid 2012 DA14 will be well within the orbit of the moon, there will be no disruption of the tides or erupting volcanoes either so fear not!
February 16, 2013: Greatest Eastern Elongation of Mercury
Mercury is almost impossible for amateur astronomers to see due to the intense glare of the sun but throughout the month of February it will grow increasingly easier to find as we lead up to February 16th. On this day the first planet in our solar system will travel just far enough away from the sun to be readily visible in the western sky. You should find Mercury with ease after sunset.
March 10, 2013: Comet PANSTARRS
Commet PANSTARRS is comet just discovered in 2011, but come this March everyone will know its name. Why? Because on March 10th, Comet PanSTARRS will cross the orbit of Mercury, absorb the heat of the nearby sun that will in return will cause it to glow as brightly as a 3rd magnitude star! This comet will be visible for most of the month via telescope, but on this day you should be able to see the bright comet with the naked eye. Look low in the west/northwest sky shortly after sunset.
April 14, 2013: The Moon Pairs with Jupiter (again)
The waxing crescent moon and the planet Jupiter are in conjunction before the constellation Taurus the Bull. This event will be visible all over the globe just after dark, but won't be as impressive as the January 21st pairing.
April 20, 2013: Astronomy Day, Part 1
This isn't so much a celestial event as much as it is an important time for pulling your friends into your favorite hobby. And Astronomy Day comes twice a year! Since 1973, Astronomy Day has served as a wonderful way to get the general public involved with astronomy enthusiasts and professionals eager to share their passion for the universe. The theme is "Bringing Astronomy to the People" and countless stargazing clubs will be offering special activities that anyone can enjoy.
April 21-22: Lyrids Meteor Shower
An average shower, the Lyrids Meteor Shower produces around 20 meteors per hour at its peak with bright dust trails that last several seconds. Although this shower peaks between the 21st and 22nd of the month, you can observe these shooting stars all the way from the 16th on through the 25th. Look to the constellation Lyra for the best view, but don't get your hopes up - this shower also coincides with a full moon, making even the most impressive meteor hard to see.
April 25, 2013: Partial Lunar Eclipse
You'll be sitting this one out, western hemisphere! The first of 2013's three lunar eclipses will be visible to most of Africa, Europe, Asia, and Australia. At maximum eclipse only a sliver of the moon will be covered by the Earth's umbral shadow while the northern half will be slightly darkened by the penumbral shadow. It may not sound like much at first, but it will be the second shortest partial eclipse of the moon for the entire 21st … that has to count for something!
April 28, 2013: Saturn at Opposition
Prepare your telescopes and cameras, folks! Saturn will be at its closest approach to Earth making this the best time of year to observe and take jaw-dropping photographs. The ringed planet will be visible to medium-sized telescopes on up, making it a great evening for amateur astronomers as well as professionals.
May 5-6, 2013: Eta Aquarids Meteor Shower
This is one of the more romantic meteor showers, because these shooting stars are made from castaway pieces of Halley's Comet. These meteors tend to be bright with dazzlingly long trails but they fall at a rather slow pace on average - 10 to 20 meteors per hour at its peak. However, uncommon surges can happen, during which we could see up to 100 meteors per hour! Regrettably, 2013 also brings a waxing gibbous moon on the same night, probably washing out the fainter streaks of celestial light. Look to the east at midnight.
May 10, 2013: The Ring of Fire Eclipse
Always a big event, the Annular Solar Eclipse begins this year in Western Australia and will move east across the central Pacific Ocean to create what is known as a "Ring of Fire" eclipse. Australia, Papau New Guinea, and the Solomon Islands will all have a great view come morning, but the rest of us will have to wait until another year. At the point of greatest eclipse, the ring phase will last a mere 6 minutes and 4 seconds. Hawaiians will get to witness a partial eclipse at 3:48 p.m. when the moon still blots out 32 percent of the sun's disk.
May 25, 2013: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse #2 or Be Prepared to Squint
This will be the second of three lunar eclipses this year, though it'll be shrugged off as a non-event most because of it being, well, virtually imperceptible. The May 25th penumbral lunar eclipse has such a small entry into the penumbral shadow that it could be said that the moon's contact with the darkness is nothing more than a slight grazing. Still yet, the event marks the beginning of the Saros Series and can be observed by most of North America, South America, Western Europe, and Western Africa … just try not to strain your eyes!
May 28, 2013: The Conjunction of Venus and Jupiter
Venus and Jupiter will be within one degree of each other tonight, and if you look close enough you may even spot Mercury nearby as well. Look to the west at sunset. These bright planets will only be in conjunction for two hours so cherish the moment.
June 12, 2013: Greatest Eastern Elongation of Mercury, Take 2
If you didn't get enough of Mercury back in February or perhaps missed that night entirely, you'll be pleased to know that this little planet's revolution around the sun only takes 88 days so there's more than one chance to get a glimpse.
July 28-29, 2013: Southern Delta Aquarids Meteor Shower
Like clockwork, every July we can count on this dazzling shower to light up the skies. The Delta Aquarids can produce 15 to 20 meteors an hour and typically peaks on July 28th and 29th, but you'll catch a few stragglers streaking across the night's sky as late as August 18th. As always, the Southern Hemisphere has the best seat for this. Look to the constellation Aquarius after midnight.
August 12-13, 2013: Perseids Meteor Shower
Once every 133 years we get to see the Swift-Tuttle comet, an impressive Halley's-like comet that stands a great chance of colliding with Earth in 4479, but let's stay positive! Swift-Tuttle might take 133 years to swing by but its debris gives us the most dazzling and dependable light show of the year, the Perseids Meteor Shower. It produces up to 60 meteors per hour and can last as long as July 23rd through August 22nd - its peak comes on the 12th and 13th. Look to the northeast and the constellation Perseus.
August 27, 2013: Neptune at Opposition
Closest proximity to Earth? Check! Full illumination by the sun? Check! Ladies and gentlemen, we have optimal conditions to see the blue giant, Neptune. Make sure you have a powerful telescope though; Neptune is staggeringly distant and to most optics it will appear as little more than a blue dot.
October 3, 2013: Uranus at Opposition
Keep all jokes to yourselves, please. Uranus at Opposition is a powerful sight that requires a powerful telescope. As with all other opposition events, the titular planet is at its closest approach to Earth and - when the light hits it just right on October 3rd - you'll get the best view and clearest pictures possible of those very unique rings.
October 9, 2013: Mercury at Greatest Easter Elongation, Take 3
Hey, it's Mercury again! Has it been 88 days already?
>October 12, 2013: Astronomy Day, Part 2
Here's one more chance to get your friends involved in stargazing! The whole community will get involved so check with your local astronomy club or planetarium for special events.
October 18, 2013: Penumbral Lunar Eclipse #3
The October Penumbral Lunar Eclipse is the last of three lunar eclipses in 2013 and will be visible from the Americas, Europe, Africa, and most of Asia, which is where the eclipse will begin. The moon will not vanish but it will darken slightly. If you are in Australia or the eastern portion of Siberia, you'll notice no difference in the moon whatsoever.
October 21, 2013: Orionids Meteor Shower
Last year we couldn't get a good look at this meteor shower due to a waning crescent moon obstructing the view, but this year … really? As it turns out, a waning gibbous moon will block the view of many meteors. Luckily, Orionids are rather bright remnants of Halley's, Comet so surely you'll get to wish on a few shooting stars if you look to Orion this Monday.
November 3, 2013: Hybrid Solar Eclipse
When the moon is nearly too close to the Earth to totally block out the sun, that's when a hybrid solar eclipse occurs. Sure, it will look like a total eclipse to some parts of the world (Off the eastern coast of the U.S.A and east across the Atlantic and finally central Africa) but to everyone else it will appear annular.
November 17-18, 2013: Leonids Meteor Shower
Every 33 years we pass through the densest patch of this cloud of space debris and the people of Earth get to witness a show of hundreds of thousands (yes, you read that right) of meteors per hour! Sadly, this year isn't our anniversary and we'll have to wait for 2023 to get here to see the big show. In the meantime we'll have to settle for the annual Leonids meteor shower, which is usually a display of 30 meteors per hour that are an impressive yellow and blue. Even with its more modest numbers, the Leonids Meteor Shower is one of the most beautiful, however there's more bad news - a full moon will be obstructing your view this year. Look to the constellation Leo after midnight, but don't get your hopes up.
November 28, 2013: Comet ISON
For an entire two month span our inner solar system will host a new guest, ISON. This comet learned nothing from the story of Icarus, and will definitely fly too close to the sun. Comet ISON will pass within 800,000 miles of the sun's surface on November 28th and, if it survives the experience, will become one of the brightest objects in the sky. How bright are we talking? Brighter than the moon! It could even become visible in broad daylight, but again - that's if it survives its run-in with the sun.
December 13-14, 2013: Geminids Meteor Shower
Better known as "Winter's Fireworks," the Geminid Shower is always a great way to cap off a year of stargazing. Simply by looking to the east you could see flashes of red, yellow, white, blue, and green! It's the most colorful of the year's showers and up to 60 multicolored meteors are guaranteed to fall every hour! But wouldn't you know it, the moon will get in the way for some. Rather than a waning gibbous, this year some meteors will be blocked by the reflections of a waxing gibbous moon.
December 22, 2013: Ursids Meteor Shower
Earth moves through the center of Comet 8P Tuttle's dust trail. What follows is the Ursids Meteor shower, a brief display of tiny streaks of light. This consists of 5 to 10 meteors per hour at most so you'll need to be quite patient to catch a glimpse of a really good meteor's fall. Gaze up at Ursa Minor for your best chance, but know that if you're in South Africa you won't be able to see this show at all.