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Comet Neowise in 2020, the most recent comet that was visible to the naked eye Mark Lee/Alamy
Night Sky

Five starry spectacles to watch out for in 2023

Is that a comet?

GET A TELESCOPE for Christmas? Or just enjoy gazing up at the stars?

There’s always something interesting to see in the night sky (weather permitting), whether it’s a meteor shower that comes every year or a comet flashing by.

As the new year rolls in, The Journal spoke to David Moore, Editor of Astronomy Ireland Magazine, about the astronomical highlights of 2023.

Here’s what you can mark down in your calendar.

Planets

For the first few weeks of the year, Mars and Jupiter will be “very prominently on view in the evening sky”, appearing “brighter than all the stars”, Moore said.

From the end of January onwards, Venus will be visible to the west at a low angle – though it won’t be around for long each evening as it sets soon after the sun. 

Venus will be close to Saturn on 22 January and to Jupiter in March before passing behind the moon later in the year on 9 November.

Mercury, one of the least-viewed planets, will be visible to the naked eye for around one week in early April.

“Because it’s close to the sun, you have to wait until the sun goes down to see Mercury above the horizon,” Moore explained.

Comet ZTF

In late January and early February, a comet due to travel close to earth may become visible to the naked eye, which would make it the first comet easily seen since Comet Neowise in 2020.

The ZTF comet – officially Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) – is expected to make its nearest approach to earth on 1 February.

“We don’t think this one will get as bright [as Neowise] but the problem with comets is that nobody really ever knows. Some of them can disappoint you and others can totally surprise you,” Moore said.

This comet will be “well-placed above the Plough near the North Star”.

“It’s hard to say exactly how bright it will be – we’ll all be hoping it exceeds expectations.”

Astronomy Ireland is hosting a telescope night on 25 January to provide guidance to new telescope users, along with a viewing of Jupiter, Mars and the moon .

Partial lunar eclipse

October is set to bring a partial lunar eclipse not long before Halloween.

Around 8pm on 28 October, the moon will be partially hidden by the earth’s shadow.

“The earth’s shadow is more than twice the width of the moon, so the moon can fit nicely inside the shadow, but this time it just skims the edges, so we’ll only get about an eighth of the moon covered by the shadow,” Moore said.

Meteor shadows

Each year, we can look forward to two key meteor showers – the Perseids in August and the Geminids in December.

“They vie for which produces the most meteors, because it can vary,” Moore said.

The Perseids, which are named after the Perseus constellation, should peak over Ireland around the night of 12 August into the morning of the 13th.

The Geminids, named after the Gemini constellation, will follow on 14 December.

The two showers bring significantly more meteors to the night sky than a typical night, often showcasing a ‘shooting star’ once a minute or more, according to Moore.

Irish satellite

A team based in UCD has designed, built and tested Ireland’s first satellite as part of a European Space Agency programme, with plans to launch it into space this year.

“We’re hoping for the first Irish satellite to be launched in the new year,” Moore said.

The researchers “built it [and] tested it to make sure it’s space-capable because it’s going up with several other several satellites, so you can’t have yours blowing up and killing everybody else’s satellites at the same time”.

The satellite is expected to bring technology to space such as the GMOD detector developed in UCD to measure bursts of gamma rays from violent explosions. 

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