2024: A Year of Cosmic Wonder


Last updated 2/15/2024 at 11:31am

Here's to some wonderful stargazing in 2024!

The year begins with brilliant Jupiter dominating the heavens. It will remain in our early evening sky throughout the spring months, though it'll be receding from Earth and will begin to fade a bit by the end of April when we'll lose it in the sunset glow. But Jupiter-watchers needn't worry; after it rounds the other side of the sun, it'll reappear in our dawn sky by June, where it'll be accompanied by its planetary neighbors Mars and Saturn.

Stargazers who prefer viewing during the early morning hours will have the entire winter to enjoy brilliant Venus, which lies low in the eastern sky at dawn. It'll become difficult to see by April but will emerge on the other side of the sun in July. Look for it low in the western sky at dusk throughout the remainder of the year.

The ringed planet Saturn will continue to appear rather faintly in the evening sky of January, and it'll be descending lower in the west until February, when we'll lose sight of it. Watch for it to emerge from the morning sun's glow by March, but it won't return to our early evening sky until September. When it does, telescopic viewers will notice something unusual: Its rings will not be as wide and bright as they've been in recent years but will appear thinner than they do now.

If we're lucky, the autumn of 2024 may produce a bright comet. Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS (aka C/2023 A3) was discovered in January 2023 by astronomers at the Purple Mountain Observatory in China and will be making a swing past the sun and Earth during the autumn months. How big and bright it will appear is anyone's guess; comets are notoriously unpredictable. Some forecasts say it could become bright enough to see with the unaided eye during September or October. Or not. Only time will tell!

Meteor shower fans will have to fight moonlight for one of the year's best displays. The Geminids of mid-December will be accompanied by a nearly full moon, meaning that only the brightest of meteors will appear over the moonlight. The Perseid meteor shower of mid-August, however, will only be hampered by moonlight during the evening hours. After midnight when more meteors are generally visible, the moon will have set below the horizon.

Of all the wonderful celestial activity of 2024, the most wonderful will be the total Solar eclipse of April 8. This is the first total Solar eclipse visible from the U.S. since 2017 and the last that will be seen from a broad area of the U.S. until 2044. The path of totality will extend from Texas up to Maine. Folks who live in or travel to this narrow swath of land will experience a rare and stunningly beautiful celestial event, where everything in nature reacts to the sun vanishing in the daytime. If you'd like to join me and other eclipse chasers in Mazatlan for this once-in-a-lifetime experience, email me at dennis@mammana.com for details.

In the meantime, I wish all my readers and fans a very happy, healthy and star-filled New Year. Get ready for another exhilarating year of cosmic wonder!

Visit Dennis Mammana at dennismammana.com.

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