Becky Ramotowski is an enthusiastic amateur astronomer who lives in New Mexico, is the author of Secrets of Stargazing, and writes a stargazing blog at astrobeck.com. Check it out! She recently sent me a piece that summarizes some really interesting things coming up this year for amateur astronomers, and I’m delighted to share it with you here. Thanks, Becky! Becky’s Astronomy Bucket List for 2012
At the beginning of each year, I make an astronomical “bucket list” of things I want to observe. It’s nothing fancy; it’s just my own way of staying on track and focused on my observing goals for the year.
Sometimes I add events as things come up, such as newly discovered comets or supernovae since I like to keep it interesting and exciting. And let me tell you, there’s nothing more exciting than having an astronomy lifestyle. Yep, astronomy is a lifestyle. It’s way past a mere hobby for me, but you probably already guessed that.
Let’s look at the lineup.
12 things to look for in 2012
- Watch Venus. The year opens with Venus as an evening “star” high in the southwest. Venus is near Neptune January 13 and then transits the Sun June 5. Maybe this should count as three things?
- Observe all of the planets. For starters, you can view Venus and Jupiter after sundown now. Mars rises around 11 p.m., so you’re a third (if you still count Pluto, and I do) of the way finished and it’s only January!
- Admire all five naked-eye planets the night of March 3. Mercury, Venus, Jupiter, Mars, and Saturn make an appearance during this busy sky-watching night.
- View Venus near the Pleiades open star cluster April 3.
- Watch the annular eclipse of the Sun May 20. You’ll need to travel a bit west to view this spectacular event, so it’s the perfect excuse to go on a road trip.
- Learn 12 constellations. Amp up the learning curve and research their mythology. I always put this on my list because of the mythology factor. It’s hard for me to keep some of those characters’ kinship straight in my mind.
- Learn 12 stars by name. It’s easier than you think, and if you learn one each month, it’s a very easy goal to achieve. Another item on my list each year just because I like to know obscure stars’ names at this point in my sky-watching lifetime.
- Be thrilled by the Perseid meteor shower August 12. The Moon won’t interfere with viewing this year, so it’s going to be a very nice show.
- Observe more comets. I’ve seen over 30, and they remain my favorite objects to watch. Each one has its own personality and is uniquely beautiful. If you observe just one, then I’m positive you’ll be hooked and want to see more of these intriguing beauties.
- Add an asteroid to your repertoire. It’s easier than you might think. Vesta and Ceres are currently binocular bright. See #12 for an exciting chance to view the asteroid Ceres.
- Watch the Moon cover Jupiter during the July 15 occultation.
- Watch the Moon occult the asteroid Ceres September 9.
Additionally, I found a few more “must see” events that I’ve added below while browsing online lists for 2012.
- February 20 to March 12 is the best time to view the elusive planet Mercury. It will be an after-sunset target, so get those optics cleaned and go for it!
- Mars reaches opposition on March 3. Mars will be at its farthest point from the Sun February 15, but two days later it will be nearest to Earth at a little over 62 million miles (100 million kilometers) distant. If you remember back in August 2003, Mars was a scant 34.6 million miles (55.7 million km) distant.
- Venus and Jupiter are a tag team the night of March 13. This double pair of the sky’s brightest planets can be spied in the western sky just after sundown.
- March 26 displays the crescent Moon and Venus in conjunction.
- The largest Full Moon of 2012 arrives the night of May 5.
- July and August present multiple double shadow transit events for Jupiter.
- July 15 has the crescent Moon, Venus, and Jupiter in the Hyades star cluster.
- Curiosity arrives at Mars August 6.
- August 13 brings a daytime occultation of Venus being hidden by the Moon around 2 p.m. MDT.
- A total solar eclipse occurs November 13. You’ll need to travel to Australia for this one, so start saving and packing now.
- Venus and Saturn are in conjunction with Mercury November 26.
- The Geminid meteor shower peaks December 13/14. This is considered by some to be even better than the more popular Perseids in August since it can be viewed as soon as the Sun sets.
- Christmas evening has Jupiter hovering above the Moon.
OK, so there you have it — a full spectrum of targets to challenge yourself with and enjoy in 2012. Feel free to make your own lists or borrow mine.