One of the reasons we LOVE being tucked away two miles into Pisgah National Forest is that the opportunities for stargazing are plenty. With very little light pollution, we have a beautiful night sky above the Inn on Mill Creek B&B. Every month brings noteworthy celestial events this year, including meteor showers, a total lunar eclipse, and planets aligning.
Take note of several key dates in 2022 to look up to the starry skies:
JANUARY 3-4: The first meteor shower of the year, the Quandratids, peaks overnight on January 3 into January 4, and is generally known to produce up to 40 meteors an hour.
FEBRUARY 13: Venus will be at its brightest in 2022 in the pre-dawn sky just before Valentine’s Day, fitting for the planet named after the Goddess of Love, and will shine in the early morning sky from February into March. Fun fact: Venus is the second brightest object in the night sky, coming in second only to the moon. Watch for them hanging out close together in the early morning hours of February 26.
MARCH 2: Early in March, we’ll have a new moon, which really means no moon. It’s the opposite of a full moon, and is a great time for stargazing since the big bright moon won’t be visible in the night sky… unless you are specifically looking for the moon. Other new moons happen in 2022 near the end or beginning of each month.
APRIL 5: Plan to wake up early this morning to see Mars and Saturn a mere 0.4 degrees from each other in the east-southeast sky just before sunrise, along with Venus. Mars with its reddish tint will appear below Saturn and the two planets will look equally bright.
APRIL 22-23: Spring brings two chances to see some shooting stars. The first is the Lyrids meteor shower, which can produce up to 20 meteors an hour and peaks the night of April 22 into the early morning hours of April 23.
APRIL 27-30: Another planet hangout happens at the end of April, this time with Jupiter appearing in the predawn sky next to Venus. The brightest will be Venus of course. The two planets will be just 0.5 degrees from each other on April 30.
MAY 6-7: Not only is it Innkeeper Brigette’s birthday, but the evening of May 6 is the peak time for the second of the annual spring meteor showers, the Eta Aquarids. You may see 10 or more speedy meteors an hour into the early morning hours of May 7, made up of leftover dust particles from Halley’s Comet.
MAY 15-16: The full moon will pass through Earth’s shadow and be blocked from the sun’s light, bringing a total lunar eclipse the evening of May 15 going into May 16. Watch for the moon to darken during the eclipse and turn a reddish hue.
JUNE 24: To get summer off to a celestially-pleasing start, the five planets visible to the naked eye – Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn – will be lined up in the southeast predawn sky on June 24. As an added bonus, the moon will also move across the sky from planet to planet, from June 18 (Saturn) to June 27 (Mercury).
JULY 28-29: The first of summertime’s two meteor showers, the Delta Aquarids, will peak overnight from July 28 into July 29, and there’ll be a new moon, meaning a nice dark sky for viewing up to 20 meteors an hour, weather permitting.
AUGUST 12-13: The Perseids meteor shower, the second of the annual meteor showers in the summertime, will peak the evening of August 12 into August 13, but with a full moon, this normally fantastic shower that produces up to 60 meteors an hour, may be less eventful this year.
AUGUST 14: Even though the viewing of the Perseids meteor shower may be hindered by a full moon, Saturn will be at Opposition the next night, meaning the planet is at its closest point to Earth while directly opposite the Sun (the Earth is sitting directly between Saturn and the sun). This makes the night of August 14 Saturn’s time to shine, when it’s at its brightest point of the year.
SEPTEMBER 26: Jupiter will be in Opposition the night of September 26, and like Saturn in August, will be at its closest approach to Earth (since 1963) and directly opposite the sun so it will shine bright all night long in the sky. And with the first new moon of the fall season happening on September 25, Jupiter won’t face any competition for brightest object in the sky.
OCTOBER 7-8: Autumn brings a total of five annual meteor showers, some better than others. The Draconids, peaking the evening of October 7 into October 8, is one of those rare meteor showers where early evening is the best time to view the show, but this one produces a smaller amount of meteors, generally up to 10 an hour.
OCTOBER 21-22: If the night sky is clear, the Orionids meteor shower is a good one to watch, producing up to 20 meteors an hour and peaking overnight from October 21 to October 22. The moon will be a thin crescent, which should make for good viewing.
NOVEMBER 4-5: Meteor showers are produced by the Earth passing through debris fields of particles left behind by comets and asteroids. While the Taurids meteor shower brings only 5-10 meteors an hour, what makes it unique is that it is actually two showers – one from leftover comet particles and one from the leftover dust of an asteroid. Look for its peak the night of November 4 going into November 5.
NOVEMBER 17-18: The fourth of the fall season’s meteor showers, the Leonids is a long running shower, with the possibility of seeing meteors nearly the entire month of November. The peak this year will be November 17 heading into the early morning hours of November 18. There are years when the Leonids produce hundreds of meteors… this is not one of those years. Look for perhaps 15 an hour.
DECEMBER 8: Mars will reach its brightest point of 2022 in the night sky on December 8, when it will also be in Opposition (with Earth sitting between it and the sun). The red planet will be visible all night long, outshining most of the stars in the sky. The next time it will be in Opposition will be January of 2025.
DECEMBER 13-14: The Geminids are typically one of the better meteor showers of the year, worth bundling up and heading outside on a chilly December night! Up to 120 meteors an hour may typically be visible at the peak, which happens the evening of December 13 into the early morning hours of December 14, but a nearly full moon (a “waning gibbous moon” to be exact) will make it harder to see meteors after the moon rises around 10:00 pm on the 13th.
DECEMBER 21-22: Kicking off the winter season is the final meteor shower of the year, the Ursids, which is made up of leftover particle debris from Comet Tuttle. While it may be a minor shower, with only up to 5-10 meteors an hour possible, the Ursids this year have the fortune of peaking the evening of December 21 heading into December 22, just before a new moon on December 23. A moon-less sky should make for decent viewing, weather permitting.