Get ready for an exciting year of celestial events in the southern sky in 2024! From meteor showers to close approaches of planets and even a possible comet sighting, there’s something for everyone to enjoy, even if you live in a city with light pollution.
One of the highlights of the year is the Eta Aquarid meteor shower in May. Named after a star in the constellation of Aquarius, these meteors appear to originate from there. They are caused by small particles hitting Earth’s atmosphere and creating streaks of light. The Eta Aquarids are associated with Halley’s Comet and can be seen on the mornings of May 6 and 7, without interference from the Moon.
In December, we have the Geminid meteor shower, which originates from the constellation of Gemini. Unlike other meteor showers, the Geminids are associated with a rocky asteroid named Phaeton. The best time to view them is early on the morning of December 14, during the short interval between the Moon setting and dawn.
Throughout the year, there are also several close approaches of planets that provide a stunning view. On March 22, Venus will be less than the width of the Moon away from Saturn, creating a beautiful sight in the eastern sky. On June 27, people in eastern Australia can witness the Moon covering Saturn, and on August 15, Mars will be less than a Moon-width from Jupiter in the early morning.
Supermoons, when the Moon is at its closest point to Earth and appears larger in the sky, will occur in September and October. These are best viewed at moonrise, as an illusion makes the Moon appear larger near the horizon. The supermoons in 2024 will be on September 18 and October 17.
One of the most exciting events to look out for is the possible sighting of Comet C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS). Discovered in January 2023, this comet is approaching the Sun and Earth and may become bright enough to be seen with the naked eye. However, comets are unpredictable, so it’s uncertain if it will be visible. The best chance to see it will be from October 19 onwards, once the Moon has moved out of the way.
In addition to these specific events, there are also constellations that can be seen throughout the year. Orion, the Hunter, is a favorite in the Southern Hemisphere during summer evenings in January. It consists of four bright stars in a rectangle with three stars representing Orion’s belt in the middle. Scorpius, the Scorpion, is another spectacular constellation that can be seen rising in the east around 3 am in January or after dusk in May.
For more information and monthly star maps, the 2024 Australasian Sky Guide is a great resource to assist with viewing and enjoying the night sky from Australia and New Zealand. So mark your calendars and get ready for an incredible year of celestial wonders!