Your stars in 2018

(NASA/JPL-Caltech)

You don’t have to tell me. You love seeing amazing things in the sky, but don’t want to hassle with star charts or quirky equipment. But what does the sky have to offer this coming year?

It’s an odd period coming up. After all the well-deserved attention to the 2017 total solar eclipse, millions are probably now open-minded about going to another. But, while there is usually one total solar eclipse each year somewhere in the world, 2018 is one of the odd years in which none happens anywhere. And though there are two lunar eclipses, they each happen mostly in daylight hours.

But it will still be a great year in the sky. For the first time in a while, both of the year’s major meteor showers will unfold under nice moonless conditions. 2018 will offer the perfect summer to see the Perseids, since they will unfold at New Moon, against truly dark skies. And December’s Gemini meteor shower won’t be spoiled by anything resembling a Full Moon, either. They should each deliver at least one shooting star per minute.

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But the most unusually brilliant sky effects will involve planets. From mid-spring through midsummer, Venus will be brilliant as a prominent evening star, and will perform monthly eyecatching conjunctions with the crescent Moon. Then, in late July we will enjoy the closest visit of Mars until the year 2035. The Red Planet will actually be brighter than Jupiter. And on its opposition night, July 27, it will hover alongside the Full Moon. Bang the drums. For weeks surrounding that time, all the planets will be arrayed across the heavens like a string of pearls.

As for displays of the aurora borealis, we have not seen a good one here since 2001, but there is no predicting them. The Sun is now a few years past its sunspot maximum of cycle number 24, but the occasional big flare or storm is nonetheless likely, and this is what causes them.

Me? I’ll do my usual annual March sky tours, first in Alaska and then in Chile; and I hope a few of you will come along at http://specialinteresttours.com. During the rest of the year I will be happy to be right here, looking up from our own beautiful neck of the woods. May this be a great New Year for all of you.

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