A star system, located 3,000 light-years away from Earth, is predicted to become visible to the unaided eye soon. This could be a once-in-a-lifetime viewing opportunity as the nova ouburst only occurs about every 80 years. T Coronae Borealis, or T CrB, last exploded in 1946 and astronomers believe it will do so again between February and September 2024.
The star system, normally magnitude +10, which is far too dim to see with the unaided eye, will jump to magnitude +2 during the event. This will be of similar brightness to the North Star, Polaris.
Once its brightness peaks, it should be visible to the unaided eye for several days and just over a week with binoculars before it dims again, possibly for another 80 years.
As we wait for the nova, become familiar with the constellation Corona Borealis, or the Northern Crown — a small, semicircular arc near Bootes and Hercules. This is where the outburst will appear as a “new” bright star.
This recurring nova is only one of five in our galaxy. This happens because T CrB is a binary system with a white dwarf and red giant. The stars are close enough that as the red giant becomes unstable from its increasing temperature and pressure and begins ejecting its outer layers, the white dwarf collects that matter onto its surface. The shallow dense atmosphere of the white dwarf eventually heats enough to cause a runaway thermonuclear reaction – which produces the nova we see from Earth.
If your New Year’s resolution included more skygazing, you’ll have many fantastic opportunities to view some showstopping astronomical events.
Kick off the year by watching the skies on Jan. 17 as the Moon pairs up with Jupiter, appearing high in the southwest, for two evenings. After a near year-long fade from the naked eye, Mars is also becoming brighter in our sky as the month progresses and will be visible low on the eastern horizon before sunrise.
Perhaps one of the most anticipated by scientists and enthusiasts is the total solar eclipse 2024 Total Eclipse – NASA Science on April 8, 2024. It will be the last total solar eclipse visible from the contiguous United States until 2044.
As the sky darkens during the solar eclipse, several of the brightest stars and planets will become visible.
Bill Cooke, lead for the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, will also be tracking Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks. The comet will slowly brighten over the coming months and may be just barely visible to the naked eye by the time of the eclipse.
“Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks is an intrinsically bright Halley-type comet that underwent an outburst back in July. Pressure from sunlight (radiation pressure) has caused the gas and dust surround the comet to assume a horseshoe shape, which some observers say reminds them of a devil with horns. Spring will see two phenomena that would have terrified our ancestors – a solar eclipse turning day into night and a “devil” comet. Should be exciting!” he exclaims.
Cooke also shared his picks for the top three meteor showers in 2024:
Perseids in mid-August – The Perseid meteor shower is always a stunner and this year, there will be no moonlight to spoil the show.
Eta Aquariids in early May – This is an outburst year with visual rates as high as one per minute for observers in the Southern Hemisphere.
Geminids in mid-December – The number of bright meteors is expected to outshine the strong Moon interference.
This is not an exhaustive list, however. The New Year will also treat us to supermoons, lunar eclipses, planetary alignments, a new comet, and much more.
The Geminid meteor shower is active for much of December, but the peak occurs the night of the 13th into the morning of the 14th. Meteor rates in rural areas can be upwards of one per minute this year with minimal moonlight to interfere.
Bill Cooke, lead for the Meteoroid Environment Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, shares why the Geminids particularly excite him: “Most meteors appear to be colorless or white, however the Geminids appear with a greenish hue. They’re pretty meteors!”
Depending on the meteor’s chemical composition, the meteor will emit different colors when burned in the Earth’s atmosphere. Oxygen, magnesium, and nickel usually produce green.
As with all meteor showers, all you need is a clear sky, darkness, a bit of patience, and perhaps warm outer wear and blankets for this one. You don’t need to look in any particular direction; meteors can generally be seen all over the sky.
By Lauren Perkins NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center
On Oct. 14, 2023, and April 8, 2024, the entire United States and millions around the world will be able to view a solar eclipse.
There are three different kinds of solar eclipses: total, annular, and partial. When the Moon is far from the Earth, its size is too small to completely cover the Sun, thus an annular eclipse is observed, like what is expected on Oct. 14, 2023. When the Moon is close to the Earth, its larger size completely covers the Sun, causing a total eclipse, which will occur on April 8, 2024. A partial eclipse occurs when the Earth, Moon, and Sun are not perfectly aligned so only a part of the Sun will appear to be covered, giving it a crescent shape. During a total or annular solar eclipse, people outside the totality/annularity paths will see a partial solar eclipse.
The Eclipse Experience
Mitzi Adams, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center Heliophysics and Planetary Science Branch Assistant Chief, shares her observations during the five total eclipses she has experienced. “It is like nothing you’ve ever experienced before. It’s sort of like somebody puts a bowl on top of Earth right above where you’re standing. In the middle of the day, it gets darker, but you can still see light around the rim.” Adams explains. “You can essentially observe a sunrise or sunset. The temperatures cool. The wind picks up. The birds may go to roost, or the coyotes may howl.”
During an annular eclipse like the one coming up on Oct. 14, even with the sun covered up to 90%, the sky remains fairly bright. Those in the path of annularity will have a chance to observe the famed “ring of fire” effect, but it is important to manage your expectations and to remember that solar viewing glasses will be needed during the event’s entirety.
Bill Cooke, NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office Lead and eclipse enthusiast, says he is most looking forward to the 2024 total eclipse because totality, when the sun is covered 100%, will last much longer than the last total eclipse in 2017 – up to nearly four and a half minutes.
In any of the upcoming eclipse events, in our technology-fueled world, you may also experience some electronic changes as the moon moves across Earth and the ionosphere cools.
The ionosphere forms the boundary between the Earth’s lower atmosphere – where we live and breathe – and the vacuum of space. It is formed when particles are charged, or ionized, by solar radiation. A total solar eclipse effectively “turns off” the ionosphere’s primary charging mechanism, mimicking nighttime conditions, so the many communications signals passing through the ionosphere could be disrupted.
GPS signals could produce location errors. Radio waves could change, sometimes even allowing Ham Radio operators to send or receive transmissions over longer distances.
The ionosphere is also home to many NASA satellites, including the International Space Station.
Solar Eclipse Science
Experiencing an eclipse is one way that everyone can participate in NASA Science. Depending on your access to different types of technology (phones, laptops, telescopes), there are several NASA Citizen Science projects you can participate in that relate to the Sun’s corona and the effects of the Moon’s shadow on Earth’s upper atmosphere.
On Oct. 14, 2023, an annular total solar eclipse will be visible to millions across the globe as it sweeps through the skies of the northwestern United States through Mexico and Central America and into South America, exiting the continent in Brazil. Even if you are not in the path of annularity, you will still be able to see a partial solar eclipse if weather conditions are right.
A map developed using data from a variety of NASA sources shows a detailed eclipse path and what observers across the States can expect to see at their local time.
The Moon’s distance from Earth is not constant, sometimes it is a little closer, sometimes a little farther away. When the Moon passes between the Sun and Earth while it is close to or at its farthest point from Earth, an annular eclipse happens. Because the Moon is farther away from Earth than on average, it appears smaller than the Sun, creating a “ring of fire” effect in the sky, and since the Sun is never completely covered, observers must wear proper eye protection at all times while watching an annular eclipse.
During a total solar eclipse, like the upcoming 2024 Solar Eclipse, the Moon is close enough to Earth to be sufficiently large to completely cover the bright face of the Sun. During the few minutes of totality, there will be darkness around midday.
What you can see during an annular eclipse depends on the weather and your location.
You need a clear sky to see the eclipse. However, even with cloud cover, the eerie daytime darkness associated with eclipses is still noticeable to human animals as well as the four-footed ones and the flying ones. Birds go to roost, bees return to the hive, and even turtles come out of ponds.
If you are not within the path of annularity, watching the eclipse from a virtual location is a great option. Join NASA for conversations with scientists and telescope views from across the country on NASA’s YouTube beginning at 10:30 a.m. CT on Oct. 14, 2023.
By Lauren Perkins NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Saturn will be located directly opposite of the Sun – at opposition – on August 26-27, 2023, as the Earth orbits between the two. From our vantage point, the Sun’s illumination will allow Saturn to appear bigger and brighter in the sky in the weeks leading up to and after the opposition. In fact, Saturn remains visible until February 2024, so don’t worry if your local weather doesn’t cooperate with your viewing plans on any particular day.
Saturn is the farthest planet from Earth easily visible by the unaided human eye. It will appear on the southeastern horizon at sunset and you can spot the bright yellowish “star” all through the night until sunrise. Although you won’t be able to view any distinguishing features, like the famed icy rings without an aid, opposition is the brightest the planet will appear – pretty good for something over 800 million miles away!
Viewing Saturn through binoculars will enhance its golden color and depending on your binoculars, allow you to make out a hint of the telltale rings, appearing more like “ears”. If you have dark, clear viewing conditions, you may also be able to observe Saturn’s largest moon Titan through your binoculars.
As is true with other celestial objects, a telescope will vastly improve what and how much you are able to see. Even a small telescope will allow you to see more details of Saturn’s rings. Of all the planets that can be observed, many astronomers encourage a Saturn-viewing in everyone’s lifetime. Even a modest magnification can provide a unique experience.
Opposition not only makes for a slightly bigger and brighter appearing planet, but as you watch the skies over the next week, you’ll also be treated to a waxing gibbous moon leading up to the Super Blue Moon on August 30, 2023. A supermoon occurs when the Moon’s orbit is closest (perigee) to Earth at the same time the Moon is full, causing the Moon to appear slightly larger and brighter than a regular full moon. A blue moon is the second full moon in a month.
By Lauren Perkins
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
The NASA All Sky Fireball Network is already detecting the first meteors of this year’s Perseid meteor shower! The meteor shower peaks on the night of August 12 as the Earth passes through the dustiest debris of comet Swift-Tuttle’s trails.
The Perseid meteor shower is often considered to be the best meteor shower of the year due to its high rates and pleasant late-summer temperatures. Unlike last year’s shower coinciding with the full moon, this year’s moon will be a waning crescent, allowing even some of the fainter meteors to be seen.
So, how many can you see?
“People in the U.S. can reasonably expect to see around 40 Perseids in the hour just before dawn on the peak nights. That’s about one every couple of minutes, which is not bad,” said Bill Cooke, who leads NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “However, we are assuming you are out in the country, well away from cities and suburbs.”
The brighter skies of suburban areas greatly reduce the rates, with 10 or fewer expected in an hour.
You can see the Perseid meteor shower best in the Northern Hemisphere. All you need to catch the show is a clear sky, darkness, and a bit of patience. You don’t need to look in any particular direction; meteors can generally be seen all over the sky.
The Perseids appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Perseus, and each meteor has a similar orbit. Meteor showers take their name from the location of their point of origin, or what is known as the radiant.
Fun fact: The Perseid meteor shower is the only meteor shower to delay a Space Shuttle launch. In 1993, the NASA – STS-51 launch was delayed due to concerns about the Perseid meteor shower activity being forecast to be extremely heavy, increasing the chance that a spacecraft in Earth orbit could be damaged by a piece of the debris.
By Lauren Perkins NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Fireworks won’t be the only bright objects lighting the sky this month. The next full moon will appear on the morning of Monday, July 3, although it will seem full for up to three days.
The July full moon is also called the “Full Buck Moon,” according to the Farmers’ Almanac, as this is the time of year when male deer antlers are in full growth. Alternatively, the Haida and Tlingit Indian Tribes of Alaska referred to the July full moon as the “Salmon Moon,” as it was a time of significant salmon migration. Perhaps you have heard the phrase describing corn fields as growing to “knee-high by fourth of July?” The Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians would refer to the July full Moon as the “Corn in Tassel Month,” due to the growth cycle of the crop.
This will be the first full Moon of the summer season and the first full Moon after the Summer Solstice. Lunar enthusiasts will have two super opportunities for full-Moon gazing in August – the Sturgeon Supermoon and the Blue Supermoon.
As the moon transitions to third quarter, Earth’s next brightest neighbor, Venus, will reach its greatest illuminated extent. Around July 7, Venus will reach apparent magnitude – 4.6. For reference, a full Moon, the second brightest celestial object after the Sun, has an apparent magnitude up to –12.6 and the faintest star you can see with your eye has a magnitude of +7.2.
Finally, wrap up the month by sharing some lunar love on International Moon Day July 20 next time on Watch the Skies!