Celestial highlights of 2022

Coming up: An interesting year in the heavens. Here’s a 2022 preview.

Start now, the next clear evening. At 5:30 p.m., very low and just above where the Sun set, we’ve been seeing brilliant beautiful Venus for many months. Now it’s suddenly gone — but you can look low in the east by month’s end to see it as a bright morning star, where it will remain for the rest of the year.

But now, low in the southwest where Venus lurked until last week, you’ll see one very bright star — the planet Jupiter. And here’s where it gets interesting. At 5:30, look to the lower right of Jupiter for two stars down low. The higher one is Saturn, which is medium bright. Below and right of Saturn is a somewhat brighter “star” — the planet Mercury. So Mercury and Saturn are having a fine meeting or conjunction down low in the southwest. It’ll last throughout this next week. If, like Johann Kepler, you’ve never seen the charbroiled innermost planet, this is your best and easiest opportunity.

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Mars begins 2022 looking dim and tiny in the morning sky, but brightens steadily until it reaches its greatest brilliance in December. Saturn, its rings angled beautifully for any small telescope, starts out  close to the Sun but gradually brightens as it becomes a morning star later this winter, reaches its biggest, nearest and brightest in August and remains well placed the rest of the year.

There will be two partial solar eclipses in 2022, but neither will be visible from the United States. As if to compensate, we’ll get to see not one but two total eclipses of the Moon, on the night of May 15-16 and again in the early opening hours of November 8.

As for meteor showers, forget them this year. The Moon will be full or nearly full for both the famous summer Perseids and the rich December Geminids. But if you enjoy those streaks across the sky, remember that from rural skies like ours, you will see six sporadic shooting stars every hour between midnight and dawn whenever the Moon is thin or absent, every night of the year.

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