When you know where to look and what to look for, any clear night is a good night for stargazing. Yet some nights– and even days– hold extraordinary events worth an extra glance or perhaps a trip around the world with your telescope and camera in tow. As you plan your stargazing (and other aspects of your life) for 2016, here are 12 celestial events to watch for in the new year.
- Venus and Saturn, brilliant in the southeastern sky before dawn, come within o.1° of each other on the morning of January 9
- Like last year, 2016 holds a fine series of occultations of the bright star Aldebaran by the Moon. The most widely visible will include an occultation on the evening of January 19 which will be visible from much of North America and Hawaii. There’s another visible from North America on October 19.
- A total solar eclipse of the Sun, the only such event in 2016, occurs for observers in parts of Indonesia on March 9. Observers in much of Australia (except for the southeast) will see a partial solar eclipse on this day.
- Observers in Europe will see the Moon, just 1% illuminated, occult Venus in the daytime at 8:31 UT on April 6. This will be an event similar to the daytime occultation of Venus on Dec. 7, 2015.
- April 21 brings forth the “Mini-Moon”, the most distant and apparently smallest Full Moon of the year. It will appear 14% smaller than the “Super Moon” in November 2016.
- This is a good one… on May 9, Mercury transits the face of the Sun. This is the first transit of Mercury since 2006. The next two are in 2019 and 2032. The 2016 transit runs from 11:12 UT until 18:42 UT. At least some of the transit is visible from most of the world except for Australia and New Zealand. The entire transit is visible from eastern North and South America and western Europe.
- Mars reaches opposition on May 22. This will be the best time to view the Red Planet until 2018. The position of Mars this year along the southern ecliptic at opposition favors southern stargazers.
- Mercury passes 1/3 of a degree north of the bright star Regulus in the western sky after sunset on July 30.
- Look for the close grouping of Venus and Jupiter on August 27. Venus, the brighter of the two, is 0.1° north of Jupiter in the western sky just after sunset.
- If you’re in the area, look for an annular solar eclipse across central Africa, Madagascar, and a narrow band of the Indian Ocean on September 1.
- A day before Halloween, on October 30, a so-called ‘Black Moon’ occurs. This is defined, informally, as the second New Moon of a calendar month, just as a ‘Blue Moon’ is the second Full Moon of a calendar month (according to some definitions).
- On November 14, roll your eyes at the media buzz about tonight’s ‘Super Moon’, the apparently largest Full Moon of 2016. It appears 14% larger than the Mini Moon of April 21.