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In the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, there is an object that is mostly made of metal, perhaps the leftover core of a would-be planet, called Psyche. A NASA mission of the same name aims to study it up close. A scheduled launch in 2022 was postponed because the spacecraft’s software was late. The mission will launch from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it will enter orbit around the asteroid in 2029, three years later than originally planned. The launch was postponed to Friday the 13th because of poor weather conditions.
Some of the United States will be visited by what is sometimes called a “ring of fire” eclipse because the moon is too far from Earth to fully block the sun, creating a ring-like effect when it reaches totality. The eclipse’s path runs through parts of Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas before dipping into Central and South America. Where the weather cooperates, it should be a great solar show and a nice lead up for the total eclipse on Apr. 8, 2024, which will cross the United States from Southwest to Northeast. See the eclipse’s path on this map.
Active from Sept. 26 to Nov. 22. Peak night: Oct. 20 to 21
After hitting the outbound trail of Halley’s comet in May, Earth every October runs into the debris the comet leaves as it heads toward the sun, producing the Orionid meteor shower. It is a medium-strength shower, usually producing 10 to 20 streaks per hour, although in exceptional years it can create up to 70 per hour.
The moon will be around a third full this year but will set around midnight, leaving the sky clear of its influence. The shower will be viewable all over the world between midnight and 4 a.m. local time.
NASA has relied on private companies to create new capabilities for the government agency, such as building spacecraft to carry astronauts and cargo to orbit. It is now trying a similar approach for transporting scientific instruments to the moon. A Houston company, Intuitive Machines, may launch its IM-1 mission, using its Nova-C spacecraft to carry payloads to the lunar South Pole region, potentially making it the second spacecraft to land there. Intuitive Machines, flying on a SpaceX rocket, says it will launch as soon as Nov. 15.
Active from Nov. 3 to Dec. 2. Peak night: Nov. 17 to 18
The Leonids are famous for occasionally producing meteor storms. In 1966, 1999 and 2001, the shower’s rates exceeded 1,000 fireballs per hour. This year’s show should be a more placid 15 meteors per hour or so, as the Earth hits debris fields released from its parent body, comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The moon will be around a quarter full on the night of peak activity. The shower will be best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere after midnight, and later at night for those in the Southern Hemisphere.
China is getting into the orbital space telescope business. Like a more sophisticated version of the Hubble Space Telescope, Xuntian will survey the universe at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths from an orbit around Earth close to the country’s Tiangong space station. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the China National Space Administration announces it.
The Andromedids are a historical shower previously thought to be defunct. Accounts by astronomers in China from 1872 and 1885 describe incredible meteor displays in which “stars fell like rain.” But the event had not produced much until 2011, when around 50 meteors per hour could be seen. It also produced a short and quite strong return in 2021.
Originating from comet 3D/Biela, the Andromedids are expected to flare once again this year, although nobody knows how strong they may be. If they appear, the meteors will be visible in Asia in the late evening just before midnight. The rising three-quarters-full moon is likely to hamper visibility after that.
Active from Dec. 4 to 17. Peak night: Dec. 13 to 14
Often one of the best and most reliable showers of the year, the Geminids will occur during a new moon this year, providing ideal conditions as long as the weather cooperates.
Viewers in northern latitudes should be able to start seeing the shower in the evening after sunset, while the action begins for those in the Southern Hemisphere after midnight. Rates could be as high as 150 meteors per hour.
It’s the scientific start to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, when this half of the world tilts away from the sun. Read more about the solstice.
Active from Dec. 17 to 26. Peak night: Dec. 22 to 23
Coming shortly after the Geminids, the Ursids are an often-overlooked minor shower that gets its name because they seem to spring from the Little Dipper, which is part of Ursa Minor.
The Ursid meteor shower will peak shortly after the new moon, meaning they will only be somewhat affected by its light. Viewers can expect to see seven to 10 meteors per hour, although it is strictly a Northern Hemisphere affair.
You wouldn’t want to live on Io, the rambunctious volcanic moon of Jupiter. But you might want to get a good look at its eruptions (from a safe distance). So would the scientists working on NASA’s Juno mission. After years of studying the atmosphere and interior of Jupiter, the spacecraft has conducted close flybys of two less perilous moons, Ganymede and Europa. The first close flyby of Io will bring Juno within 1,000 miles of the satellite world and its outbursts.
On any given night, far from bright city lights, there’s a chance that you’ll see a beautiful streak shoot across the sky as a meteor flies overhead. But on special dates scattered throughout the year, skywatchers can catch a multitude of flares as meteor showers burst in the darkness.
Meteor showers occur when our planet runs into the debris fields left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids going around the sun. These small particles burn up in the atmosphere, leading to blazing trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any given meteor shower happens at roughly the same time each year, with the changing phases of the bright moon being the main variable affecting their visibility.
The coming year should be a good one for meteor lovers. The biggest events — the summer Perseids and the winter Geminids — will peak when the moon is either waning or new, meaning its bright light won’t interfere much with the spectacular displays.
Those outside the United States may catch a glimpse of the Andromedids, a shower that astronomers had considered dead until it showed some activity in 2011 and is expected to potentially return again this year.
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How to see a shower
The best practice is to head out to the countryside and get as far from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas may have the luxury of just stepping outside. But city-dwellers have options, too.
Many cities have an astronomical society that maintains a dedicated dark sky area. “I would suggest contacting them and finding out where they have their location,” Robert Lunsford, the secretary general of the International Meteor Organization, said in an interview with The New York Times in 2022.
Meteor showers are usually best viewed when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. To see as many meteors as possible, wait 30 to 45 minutes after you get to your viewing location. That will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then lie back and take in a large swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes and times when the moon is slim or absent are best. Mr. Lunsford suggested a good rule of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”
Binoculars or telescopes aren’t necessary for meteor showers, and in fact will limit your view.
How meteor showers form
Each shower peaks on a certain date when Earth is plowing into the densest portion of the debris field, though in some cases many meteors can still be seen before or after that specific night.
A shower is named for a constellation in the part of the sky it appears to streak from. But there’s no need to be perfectly versed in every detail of the celestial sphere. Meteors should be visible all over the sky during any given shower.