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2022 night sky: Spotting Mars at its brightest, stargazing amid a black moon and more

Mars (NASA/Released)

The night sky will shine with a full moon every month in 2022 and stargazers can prepare to see various special celestial events.

Brian Lada, AccuWeather meteorologist, shared some of the top astronomy events of the year, including a black moon, supermoons, lunar eclipses and much more.

Here’s a closer look at the 2022 solar events.

METEOR SHOWERS

The Lyrid meteor shower will be one of the best displays of shooting stars this year. It peaks on April 21-22, and will be the first meteor shower to peak in over three months, ending a lengthy meteor shower drought, and producing around 15 shooting stars per hour.

It will be followed up by the eta Aquarids less than two weeks later, Lada said. This meteor shower can offer between 20 and 40 meteors per hour on the night of May 4 into May 5.

Later this summer, one of the most popular annual meteor showers will peak. The Perseid meteor shower will brighten the sky on Aug. 12-13.

Under ideal conditions, the Perseids can put on a dazzling performance with 50 to 100 shooting stars per hour, but hourly rates could be cut in half this year, as the event peaks the night after a bright supermoon, Lada noted. Some meteors should be visible despite the moonlit sky, but the moonlight will wash out many of the dimmer meteors.

The Orionids will then peak two months later on Oct. 20-21, offering around 20 meteors per hour.

To close out the end of 2022, another of the most anticipated annual meteor showers, the Geminids, will peak during the second full week of December.

Under ideal conditions, the Geminids can offer over 100 meteors per hour, but the nearly full moon will once again contest the shower, Lada said. It will be best viewed between 10 and 11 p.m., though it will be active all night.

TRIO OF PLANETS

According to Lada, a trio of planets — Mars, Saturn and Venus — will appear extremely close before sunrise during the last two weeks of March.

The trio will be so close that they will be in the same field of view of some telescopes and binoculars.

BLACK MOON

This astronomical event is the only one that can’t be seen, even with the help of a telescope. April’s “black” moon on April 30 is the counterpart to the blue moon, and is used to describe the second new moon of the month. New moons can’t be observed, as it’s the time when the illuminated side of the moon is facing away from the Earth.

While it can’t be spotted in the sky, it’s a good time of the month to go stargazing, as there is no light pollution from the moon.

A blue moon in comparison describes the second full moon in a calendar month, even if the moon doesn’t turn blue in color.

LUNAR ECLIPSE

The moon will turn red on the night of May 15-16 as the entire contiguous United States will get to see the moon passing through Earth’s shadow. That’s as long as the weather cooperates, Lada said. The eclipse in May is the first of two that will be visible over the United States this year.

But the second one could take place on a chilly night, according to Lada.

The second and final total lunar eclipse of the year will take place before sunrise on Nov. 8. But not all of North America will be able to view it. East Coast observers will miss out on the total phase of the eclipse, as the moon will set just before the height of the event, Lada said.

There were two lunar eclipses last year — one in May that was only briefly visible for parts of the West Coast. The second lunar eclipse of 2021 was in November, when 97% of the moon fell dark, and it was only a bit short of being considered a total lunar eclipse.

SUPERMOON

There will be three supermoons in 2022. The first will shine in the middle of June, according to Lada. June’s supermoon will be followed by one on July 13 and another on Aug. 12.

A supermoon occurs when a full moon falls near or on perigee, which means the full moon coincides with the point in orbit in which the moon is closest to Earth, according to AccuWeather.com. As a result, the moon can appear to be up to 14% larger and 30% brighter during a supermoon, but it’s very hard to spot the difference.

There were three supermoons last year — in April, May and June.

PLANETS ALIGN

In another spectacular celestial event, Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will all be bright enough to be seen with the naked eye, and will align in order before sunrise near the end of June.

“The rare alignment will appear just before sunrise on June 24 across the eastern sky,” Lada said. “The crescent moon will also be in line with the planets, shining between Venus and Mars.”

While the planets will appear to be a line in the sky, they won’t be lined up perfectly in the solar system, but just how they appear from the perspective of the Earth.

MARS OPPOSITION

According to Lada, Mars will become a prominent feature in the night sky during the second half of 2022, eventually reaching peak brightness in early December as it reaches opposition on Dec. 8. This means that Mars is opposite the sun from the perspective of the Earth. As a result, it is visible all night long, and shines brighter than most stars in the sky, Lada explained.

Mars only reaches opposition once every 26 months. After this year, it will not happen again until Jan. 15, 2025.

These close encounters are also the best opportunities for space agencies like NASA to launch missions to Mars.

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