View Nova Explosion, ‘New’ Star in Northern Crown

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.

A red giant star and white dwarf orbit each other in this animation of a nova. The red giant is a large sphere in shades of red, orange, and white, with the side facing the white dwarf the lightest shades. The white dwarf is hidden in a bright glow of white and yellows, which represent an accretion disk around the star. A stream of material, shown as a diffuse cloud of red, flows from the red giant to the white dwarf. The animation opens with the red giant on the right side of the screen, co-orbiting the white dwarf. When the red giant moves behind the white dwarf, a nova explosion on the white dwarf ignites, filling the screen with white light. After the light fades, a ball of ejected nova material is shown in pale orange. A small white spot remains after the fog of material clears, indicating that the white dwarf has survived the explosion.
Credit: NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

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.

A conceptual image of how to find Hercules and his mighty globular clusters in the sky created using a planetarium software. Look up after sunset during summer months to find Hercules! Scan between Vega and Arcturus, near the distinct pattern of Corona Borealis. Once you find its stars, use binoculars or a telescope to hunt down the globular clusters M13 and M92. If you enjoy your views of these globular clusters, you’re in luck – look for another great globular, M3, in the nearby constellation of Boötes.
Credit: NASA

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.

Follow @NASAUniverse for updates about the outburst.

By Lauren Perkins
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

Mars, Venus Appear Very Close to Each Other this Month

February is a great month for the early rising skygazers. Venus has been bright in the morning sky all year, rising just before the Moon.

In the minutes before dawn this week, Venus will rise to the upper left of the waning crescent Moon and will be joined by Mars.

This graphic shows Venus, Earth and its Moon, and Mars.
This graphic shows Venus, Earth and its Moon, and Mars. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/ESA

Over the coming weeks, Venus will shift towards Mars until they appear to merge into one another, just a half a degree apart, on Feb. 22.

To view this planetary illusion, you’ll need to find a place with a clear view of the western horizon – few to no tall trees or buildings.

For more skygazing opportunities, including observing spiral galaxy M81, check out the video below from Jet Propulsion Laboratory’s monthly “What’s Up” video series:

By Lauren Perkins
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

2024 Highlights: When & Where to Watch the Skies

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.

A view of the Eclipse 2008
For a moment on August 1st, the daytime sky grew dark along the path of a total solar eclipse. While watching the geocentric celestial event from Mongolia, photographer Miloslav Druckmuller recorded multiple images with two separate cameras as the Moon blocked the bright solar disk and darkened the sky. This final composition consists of 55 frames ranging in exposure time from 1/125 to 8 seconds. See the photo here.
Credit: Miloslav Druckmuller (Brno University of Technology), Peter Aniol, Vojtech Rusin

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.

On December 4, 2023 periodic Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks shared this telescopic field of view with Vega, alpha star of the northern constellation Lyra. Fifth brightest star in planet Earth’s night, Vega is some 25 light-years distant while the much fainter comet was about 21 light-minutes away. In recent months, outbursts have caused dramatic increases in brightness for Pons-Brooks though. Nicknamed the Devil Comet for its hornlike appearance, fans of interstellar spaceflight have also suggested the distorted shape of this large comet’s central coma looks like the Millenium Falcon. A Halley-type comet, 12P/Pons-Brooks last visited the inner Solar System in 1954. Its next perihelion passage or closest approach to the Sun will be April 21, 2024. That’s just two weeks after the April 8 total solar eclipse path crosses North America. But, highly inclined to the Solar System’s ecliptic plane, the orbit of periodic Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks will never cross the orbit of planet Earth. Credit: Dan Bartlett

“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:

    1. Perseids in mid-August – The Perseid meteor shower is always a stunner and this year, there will be no moonlight to spoil the show.
    2. 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.
    3. Geminids in mid-December – The number of bright meteors is expected to outshine the strong Moon interference.


A sky full of falling meteors.
The featured composite image was taken during the 2018 Perseids from the Poloniny Dark Sky Park in Slovakia. The dome of the observatory in the foreground is on the grounds of Kolonica Observatory. Although the comet dust particles travel parallel to each other, the resulting shower meteors clearly seem to radiate from a single point on the sky in the eponymous constellation Perseus. The radiant effect is due to perspective, as the parallel tracks appear to converge at a distance, like train tracks. Click here to see the photo.  Credit: Petr Horálek / Institute of Physics in Opava

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.

Gorgeously Green: Geminids Peak Next Week

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!”

Northern Lights, or aurora borealis, haunted skies over the island of Kvaløya, near Tromsø Norway on December 13. This 30 second long exposure records their shimmering glow gently lighting the wintery coastal scene. A study in contrasts, it also captures the sudden flash of a fireball meteor from December’s excellent Geminid meteor shower. Streaking past familiar stars in the handle of the Big Dipper, the trail points back toward the constellation Gemini, off the top of the view. Both aurora and meteors occur in Earth’s upper atmosphere at altitudes of 100 kilometers or so, but aurora are caused by energetic charged particles from the magnetosphere, while meteors are trails of cosmic dust.
Credit & Copyright: Bjørnar G. Hansen

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

Spooky Season of the Skies

The NASA All-sky Fireball Network is a network of cameras set up by the NASA Meteoroid Environment Office (MEO) with the goal of observing the brightest meteors called fireballs.

However, sometimes creepy, crawly, spooky, strange, and mysterious images also get picked up by their cameras.

An orange hue tints the photo of the sky .

Do you see the jack-o-lantern in the clouds?

A spider crawls on the lens of the camera in the upper half of the screen

Long-legged creepy crawler.

A hooded figure seems o be in the distance on the camera.

Hooded visitor of the night?

The outline of a frog on the screen in black and white

Not all tree frogs live in trees.

Streaks from birds flying across the sky leave white lines on a black

Broomstick convention or birds?

A bird's talons are shown in black and white

I bet those talons could grab a lot of candy.

Images and video of fireballs from the cameras are available for anyone to download from NASA’s All-Sky Fireball Network.

By Lauren Perkins
NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center

The Solar Eclipse Experience

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.


A map showing where the Moon’s shadow will cross the U.S. during the 2023 annular solar eclipse and 2024 total solar eclipse.
A map showing where the Moon’s shadow will cross the U.S. during the 2023 annular solar eclipse and 2024 total solar eclipse. (NASA SVS)

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.

From left to right, this image shows a total solar eclipse, annular solar eclipse, and partial solar eclipse.
From left to right, this image shows a total solar eclipse, annular solar eclipse, and 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.

Regardless of how you plan to experience a solar eclipse, or any solar viewing for that matter, remember to always do so safely.

Lauren Perkins
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Coming Soon: A “Ring of Fire” in the Sky

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.

An animation of the Earth that shows where the annular eclipse path will be in 2023.
Animated map showing the 2023 annular eclipse path (red dot) and partial eclipse visibility (shadowed area). Credit: Eclipse Predictions by Fred Espenak, NASA’s GSFC

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.

A black circle is in the middle with a bright orange glow around it shows the 2022 annular solar eclipse.
An annular solar eclipse creates a “ring of fire” around the Moon, similar to that seen in this image taken by the Hinode spacecraft on January 4, 2011. Credit: JAXA/NASA/SAO/NAOJ

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.
      • To see all phases of an annular eclipse, including the “ring of fire,” you must view it from somewhere within the path of annularity.
An animation video of what the annual eclipse looks like. A black circle moves across the bright orange circle that represents the moon.
This conceptual animation is an example of what you might expect to see through certified solar-viewing glasses or a handheld solar filter during an annular solar eclipse, like the one happening over the United States on October 14, 2023. Annular eclipses are famous for the “ring of fire” effect that appears around the edge of the Moon. This happens because the Moon is slightly farther from Earth and appears too small to block out the Sun completely. Credit: NASA

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 Shines This Week – 3 Ways to View the Planet’s Opposition

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.

A graph that shows how far away Saturn is from the sun via concentric circles.
Saturn is the sixth planet from the Sun and the second-largest planet in our solar system. Like fellow gas giant Jupiter, Saturn is a massive ball made mostly of hydrogen and helium. Saturn is not the only planet to have rings, but none are as spectacular or as complex as Saturn’s.(Credit: NASA Solar System)

Unaided Eye
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!

The rings of Saturn in colors of Green Blue and red to depict how cold they are.
The varying temperatures of Saturn’s rings are depicted in this false-color image from the Cassini spacecraft. This image represents the most detailed look to date at the temperature of Saturn’s rings. (Credit: NASA/JPL/GSFC/Ames)

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.

Two images of Saturn with rings. The top image shows more of a beige with a tint of red with white rings and the bottom image is very yellow with yellow rings.
The top image is a view from NASA’s Earth-orbiting Hubble Space Telescope taken on March 22, 2004. Camera exposures in four filters (blue, blue-green, green and red) were combined to form the Hubble image and render colors similar to what the eye would see through a telescope focused on Saturn. The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft returned the bottom image of Saturn on May 16, 2004, when its imaging science subsystem narrow-angle camera was too close to fit the entire planet in its field-of-view. (Credit: Hubble: NASA, ESA and Erich Karkoschka (University of Arizona), Cassini: NASA/JPL)

Bonus Viewing
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.

Happy skygazing!

By Lauren Perkins
NASA Marshall Space Flight Center

Best Meteor Shower of the Year Peaks This Weekend

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.

A bright white streak is in the bottom left corner on a dark grey almost black background.
On July 26, 2023, the NASA All Sky Fireball Network detected the first Perseid meteor of the year. (NASA/All Sky Fireball Network)

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.

A graph shows the Perseid Radiant with time.
This diagram, based on data from the NASA Fireball Network, shows the change in the direction of the Perseid radiant with time. This is caused by Earth’s motion about the Sun, causing the radiant to appear to “drift” with respect to the background stars. (Danielle Moser, NASA Meteoroid Environment Office)

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.

A Space Shuttle being wheeled out with people standing in the foreground.
On June 1, 1993, the orbiter Discovery is shown here being rolled into the Vehicle Assembly Building (VAB) for mating with the external tank and twin solid rocket boosters. At the time, Discovery was being prepared for mission STS-51, targeted for a mid-July liftoff. (NASA/JSC)

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

Venus’s Brilliance Begins July’s Celestial Celebration

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 nearly full moon rises over the city of New Orleans in a time lapse video where the headlights of cars are streaks on the road.
The nearly full moon rises over the city of New Orleans on Tuesday evening, May 25, 2021. Photo credit: NASA/ Michael DeMocker

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.

The northern hemisphere is displayed in this global view of the surface of Venus as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft.
The northern hemisphere is displayed in this global view of the surface of Venus as seen by NASA Magellan spacecraft. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Finally, wrap up the month by sharing some lunar love on International Moon Day July 20 next time on Watch the Skies!