June 5, 2023
Sky Shorts: Space exploration, night sky highlights for 2023

Sky Shorts: Space exploration, night sky highlights for 2023

This year has been amazing and historic for space exploration.

The most powerful telescope, the James Webb Space Telescope, was successfully deployed and cooled a million miles from Earth. The first incredible images were shared on July 12. The return mission to the Moon, Artemis I, was launched on November 16, and the unmanned Orion capsule was launched on December 11. This successful test mission paves the way for astronauts to orbit the moon in 2024. NASA’s SpaceX Crew 3 returned in May. Crew 4 started in April and returned in October. and Crew 5 was released in October.

Our 2022 sky snapshots included two total lunar eclipses – on May 16 and November 8. We also had a spectacular display of planets in the evening sky to close out the year, with Venus, Saturn, Jupiter and Mars!

Space exploration highlights for 2023

The European Space Agency’s Explorer of Jupiter’s icy moons, or JUICE, will make detailed observations of Jupiter and its three ocean-bearing moons – Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. These moons are considered potentially habitable. Release is set for April 2023.

NASA’s OSIRIS REx spacecraft, which launched on September 8, 2016, received a sample of a near-Earth asteroid called Bennu in 2018.

The sample returns to Earth in September 2023. The mission will help scientists discover information about the planet and the formation of life, and improve our understanding of asteroids that could hit Earth.

NASA’s Psyche mission has a target launch date of October 2023. Psyche is named after the only metallic asteroid in the asteroid belt it will visit. The soul appears to be the exposed nickel-iron core of an early planet, a building block of our solar system.

NASA SpaceX Crew 5 returns in March from the International Space Station. Crew 6 launches on February 15th and returns in the fall. Crew 7 starts in the fall.

Also headed to the ISS is the first crewed flight of Boeing’s CST-100 Starliner, launching in April 2023. The Starliner can carry up to seven passengers, but only two will be at the controls for the spring launch, the astronauts Barry “Butch” Wilmore and Suni Williams.

Night sky highlights for 2023

March 2 – The two brightest planets in the night sky, Venus and Jupiter will be less than a degree apart.

April 8 – One year until the total solar eclipse.

April 29 – National Astronomy Day.

June 1-2 – Mars transits the Hive Cluster.

June 12-13 – Venus transits the Hive Cluster.

June 21 – Venus, Mars and the waxing crescent moon form a tight group after sunset.

August 30 – Super Moon. The closest full moon of the year. Also, the blue moon, second full moon in August.

October 14 – Partial Solar Eclipse. Starts at 11:49 am. Peak at 1:09 p.m. with 40% coverage in the sun. Ends at 2:30 p.m. The total eclipse will last 2 hours and 41 minutes. Excellent dress rehearsal for the total solar eclipse on April 8, 2024.

Night sky for January

Planets and Moon – Early winter sunsets give us plenty of time to enjoy the planet’s magnificent show after sunset. Dazzling Venus returned to the evening sky. Shining at magnitude -3.9, Venus can be found low in the west-southwest one hour after sunset on January 1st and two hours after sunset on January 31st. Throughout the month, Venus glides along the ecliptic and meets Saturn on Jan. 22 for a very close encounter. The pair will be less than a degree apart and in the same field of view through a telescope! That same night, the very young Moon will be below the pair, very low in the west-southwest. The following evening, the crescent moon will be slightly above the pair. Saturn begins the month twenty degrees high in the southwest, after sunset, at magnitude 0.8. By the middle of the month, Saturn has reached 15 degrees after sunset. By the end of the month, Saturn disappears quickly after sunset. Jupiter is bright, high in the south-southwest, at magnitude -2.4. Jupiter sets more than six hours after sunset on January 1st and about four hours after sunset on January 31st. Jupiter will conjunct the crescent moon on January 25th. Bright Mars can be found in Taurus, Taurus, shining in magnitude – 1.2. On January 1, Mars will be 70 degrees high in the southern sky, nine degrees east of the beautiful open star cluster, the Pleiades. Mars and the waxing moon will be together on January 30th. Neptune is high in the southwestern sky, in eastern Aquarius, at magnitude 7.8. Jupiter is eight degrees east, so it’s a useful guide for finding Neptune with binoculars. On January 24, Neptune will be five degrees above the Moon. Uranus is in southern Aries at magnitude 5.7. On January 28-29, Uranus will be less than a degree from the suffocating Moon. Binoculars are best for viewing. Mercury heads into the morning sky after January 7th and brightens from magnitude 1.1 on January 15th to 0.0 on January 22nd. Mercury reaches its maximum western elongation, 25 degrees from the Sun, on January 30. On January 19, the waning crescent Moon is 15 degrees to the right of Mercury and can be a useful guide.


East – Big leaping star in this part of the sky! Start with the most magnificent image in our stars, Orion, the Hunter. Look for the three stars in a line, which make up Orion’s belt. The bright red-orange star above and to the left of the belt is Betelgeuse. The bright blue-white star below and to the right of the belt is Rigel. Draw a line from the belt to a red, orange star, Aldebaran, which is the eye of Taurus, the Bull. The sideways V shape is the face of Taurus. Above Taurus, the small cluster of stars is the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. Making a counterclockwise loop from the Pleiades, the next bright star is Capella. Continuing down, the two stars you see are Gemini, the Twins.

North – The Big Dipper begins to hover on its handle. Following the two stars at the end of the cup to the next bright star, is Polaris, or the North Star. The constellation Cassiopeia is located above and to the left of Polaris and looks like the letter “M”.

west – There you will see four stars that form the Great Square of Pegasus.

Binocular Features – When looking north, spot the “M” shape of Cassiopeia. From the left point of the “M” shape, sweep slowly to the left. You will see a fuzzy circular shape. This is the Andromeda Galaxy. From the right point of the “M”, swipe up slightly. You will meet the Double Swarm in Perseus. High above, you will see the small cluster of stars, the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters. The Pleiades are a beautiful open star cluster. Head to Orion, the Hunter. Scan below the three stars of Orion’s belt. You will see fuzzy area with bright stars. This is the Orion Nebula, a cloud of hydrogen gas where new stars form.

The Quadrantid Meteor Show peaks on January 3rd.

For more night sky details, maps and audio, visit my website www.starrytrails.com.

Visit the Hoover Price Planetarium

Visit www.mckinleymuseum.org for show dates and times. Planetarium shows are free with museum admission. The planetarium is located inside the McKinley Presidential Library & Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, in Canton. For more information, call the museum at 330-455-7043.

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