Here are the key dates and events all astronomers and stargazers need to look out for over the coming year, including near Earth Asteroid DA14, planet conjunctions and the dazzling Comet ISON.
1) First up on the 15th of February, 2013 is Asteroid 2012 DA14. First discovered by the Spanish OAM Observatory on February 23rd, 2012, DA14 is set to just miss the Earth by around 35,000 miles. This may seem like quite a large distance but the asteroid will in fact pass between our planet and many of our man made satellites orbiting in space.
2012 DA14 is said to be 45 meters wide and will reach it’s closest point to us at 19:25 Universal Time (GMT). Even with clear skies though, don’t expect to see the object with the naked eye. As it passes close to our planet, Earths gravity will bend and alter DA14’s trajectory sending it off on a slightly different path as seen above. After that the asteroid won’t pass near Earth again until the year 2046.
2) Next on the 28th of April, 2013 astronomers will get a great chance to view Saturn as the planet will be in opposition. This simply means the ringed planet will be at it’s closest point to Earth giving us the best chance to view the gas giant.
3) A month after that on the 28th of May, 2013 there’s an event everyone can appreciate. Whether you have a telescope or not, you’ll be able to enjoy seeing the Venus and Jupiter Conjunction. This conjunction will be where the two brightest planets in our solar system as viewed from Earth will line up close together in the sky. Regardless of if your seeing Venus and Jupiter in the night sky or early morning, this is a sight not to be missed. There’s nothing quite like watching these two beacons appearing above the summer horizon just before sunrise, truly magical.
4) Then the 12th of August, 2013 will see the peek of the annual Perseid Meteor Shower. If your lucky enough to have clear skies around this time in August you may see up to around 80 meteors (also known as shooting stars) each hour. Put the telescopes away though, this is one event this year certainly best viewed with the naked eye.
5) Lastly on our list is what could turn out to be the astronomical event of the year or even the decade. During late November and early December, 2013 look out for Comet ISON. Dubbed as the “Comet of the Century”, ISON will pass as close as 800,000 miles from the Sun, this should result in a long bright tail being blow off ISON by the solar wind.
ISON which stands for International Scientific Optical Network (the group who first discovered the comet in September 2012) will reach it’s closest point to the Sun on the 28th of November. We’ll have to wait until later this year before the comet gets close enough to start developing it’s tail, it’s after this time when scientists will better be able to predict it’s future brightness.
It should be noted though that predicting the behavior of newly discovered comets is typically very tough, ISON could yet turn out to have an anticlimax.