The night sky in 2023 will boast an incredible schedule of celestial wonders for stargazers to enjoy. Several of the brightest planets will not only engage in eye-catching close encounters with one another, they will also move across some of the sky’s most spectacular star clusters. Conditions for a few of the most active meteor showers will be nearly perfect for viewing. And arguably the most anticipated highlight will be October’s “ring of fire” solar eclipse, which will be visible to people in parts of North and South America.
Here are some dazzling sky-watching events to mark on your calendar.
January 23: The crescent moon meets the ringed world and the goddess of love
Within an hour or so after sunset on January 23, watch the stunning glow from the whisker-thin crescent moon pop into view in the southwestern sky. Just below will be two bright planets: Venus and Saturn. The worlds will be positioned only about one degree apart—roughly equal to the width of your index finger held at arm’s length—allowing viewers with binoculars and even backyard telescopes to see both simultaneously. Venus will be blazingly bright, easily outshining Saturn. Be quick to catch them before the celestial pair sinks below the horizon.
February 22: Close encounter of the moon and Jupiter with Venus nearby
As soon as the sun drops below the southwestern horizon on February 22, look for a waxing crescent moon snuggling up to the king of the planets, Jupiter. Brilliant Venus will be positioned a little beneath in the sky, vying for attention. Observers in the southernmost parts of South America will even get to see the moon move in front of Jupiter for short while, a phenomenon called a lunar occultation. For the rest of the world, the two celestial bodies will still put on an amazing show as they appear to brush past each other only one degree apart.
March 1: The two brightest planets join forces
If you follow the two brightest planets, Venus and Jupiter, during the first couple months, you will notice that they slowly converge in the southwestern sky. On the evening of March 1, these superbright worlds will make their closest approach to each other, passing within half a degree—close enough to see the disks of both clearly in the same field of view through even the tiniest of backyard telescopes.
April 11: Venus joins the Seven Sisters—and Mercury makes an appearance
An hour after sunset on April 11, look for a picture-perfect pairing of two celestial jewels: Venus and the Pleiades star cluster. Venus will be easy to see with the naked eye as a brilliant, star-like object high in the southwestern sky. Using binoculars will reveal the tight grouping of stars near the planet. The brightest nine of the bunch are named for the Seven Sisters of Greek mythology along with their parents. From a dark, unobstructed location, away from light pollution, you should be able to spot the dazzling cluster—which actually includes some 3,000 stars—with unaided eyes. Venus will lie only about 100 million miles from Earth at this time, but the Pleiades sit some 2.6 quadrillion miles away.
As an added observing challenge on the same evening, sky-watchers can seek out the innermost planet in the solar system close to the western horizon about half an hour after sunset. Mercury will reach its highest point in the sky on this day, offering the best view of the planet all year. Binoculars can help cut through the sunset glare to catch sight this faint little dot.
April 20: Hybrid solar eclipse graces parts of Oceania
Lucky sky-watchers in a small slice of the Eastern Hemisphere will get to experience a rare hybrid solar eclipse. In some regions it will be total, and in other places annular. In an annular eclipse, also nicknamed a ring of fire eclipse, a ring of sunlight surrounds the moon as it passes in front of the sun.
The thin corridor of the maximum eclipse will pass through the Ningaloo Coast of western Australia, where it will appear total, and then stretch through the West Papua province of Indonesia and sweep across the islands of Micronesia, where the eclipse becomes annular. The eclipse ends out in the Pacific Ocean about 1,900 miles east of the Hawaiian Islands. A small number of people will be positioned to see the full or annular eclipse, but a partial eclipse of the sun will be visible over a much larger region, covering all of Indonesia, Australia, and Papua New Guinea, as well as several other areas in the western Pacific.
April 22 and 23: Lyrid meteor shower
Meteor watchers are in for a treat on the night of April 22 and into the early morning hours of April 23, as sky conditions should be nearly perfect for the peak of the Lyrid meteor shower. The best views are expected on April 23 in the predawn hours. The crescent moon will set early the night before, leaving behind skies dark enough for watchers to glimpse even the faintest shooting stars.
The meteor shower will appear to radiate near the bright star Vega and its namesake constellation Lyra. Away from city lights, as many as 20 shooting stars may be visible per hour. The Lyrids are known to deliver bright and impressively fast streaks across the night sky, with surprise bursts of activity on rare occasions. Will we see an outburst this year? The only way to find out is to go outside and look up!
May 22 and 23: A trio of nearby worlds
As soon as the sun sinks on May 22, enjoy an eye-catching encounter between the moon, Mars, and Venus, three of the closest and brightest neighboring worlds. The shimmering trio will hang in close proximity in the western sky in an arc formation. On May 23 look for the crescent moon to slide in between Venus and Mars. Closer inspection with binoculars will reveal that the moon is also joined by the bright stars Castor and Pollux of the Gemini constellation.
If you miss the conjunction, another chance will come a month later when, on June 21 and 22, there will be a similar performance of these celestial players.
June 2: Mars buzzes the Beehive Cluster
In the evening of June 2, Mars will glide in front of the beautiful Beehive star cluster. To catch the event, wait until the sky darkens about an hour after sunset and look for brilliant Venus to guide you to the dimmer reddish dot nearby, which will be Mars. If you train a pair of binoculars or a telescope on the red planet, you’ll quickly notice that it’s photobombing a concentrated group of stars. The Beehive Cluster is a collection of about a thousand young stars positioned about 600 light-years from Earth, located in the constellation Cancer, the crab.
August 12 and 13: Prime time for the Perseid meteor shower
Considered one of the most spectacular annual meteor showers, the Perseids regularly produce up to 60 shooting stars per hour. Every mid-August, Earth slams into a cloud of small debris that was left behind by a comet, which produces a flurry of shooting stars as each little meteor burns up in the atmosphere. This year promises to offer particularly good viewing, since the shower’s peak on the night of August 12 and into the following predawn hours will coincide with a dim, waning crescent moon.
Leave the binoculars and telescopes at home for these fireworks. The meteors streak across large parts of the sky, meaning the unaided eye offers a greater chance to catch the shooting stars zipping by. Try to find a viewing spot with as little light pollution as possible, but even from a suburban backyard or an unlit park, at least 10 to 30 shooting stars should be visible per hour.
October 14: An otherworldly ring of fire
Fortunate viewers along a narrow path running through the Americas will get to see a ring of fire eclipse of the sun on October 14.The path where it will be visible runs from Oregon down through Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Texas before crossing the Gulf of Mexico, and then over parts of Central America, and through Colombia and Brazil.
While many people will not be in the ring of fire’s path, hundreds of millions will still be well placed to witness a partial solar eclipse. The eclipse begins over central Oregon at 9:13 a.m. PT and ends at sunset in Brazil.
December 13 and 14: The Geminids create gems in the sky
As the year comes to a close, sky-watchers can expect to be treated to one of nature's most reliable shows, the Geminid meteor shower. Although not as famous as its Perseid cousin, astronomers estimate meteors should be visible at up to 120 per hour in the overnight hours between December 13 and 14, making this one of the most active showers of the year. And because the nearly new moon will be out of the night sky entirely, viewers will be able to see even fainter shooting stars, making this possibly the best meteor shower of the year.
The Geminids are also known to last a bit longer than other meteors, leaving beautiful long trains that last a second or two. The shower's radiant—the point in the sky from which the meteors appear to originate—is its namesake constellation, Gemini, which rises above the eastern horizon after 9 p.m. local time.