Top 10 sky events of 2023

Three major meteor showers, including the Perseids, arrive with the Moon mostly out of the way this year.

We’ll be a year older, but a year wiser, when 2023 arrives with plenty to see in the night sky. Venus emerges as the “evening star” for the first part of the year, and encounters the crescent Moon and other bright planets as it rises higher each day. 

Three major meteor showers, including the Perseids, arrive with the Moon mostly out of the way for 2023. And nearly all Canadians get to enjoy an autumn partial solar eclipse. While it’s always tough to narrow down a year’s worth of celestial events to a short list, here’s our selection of the 10 best night-sky events for 2023.

Venus, Saturn and a crescent Moon at dusk

  • Date: January 23
  • Type: Conjunction
  • Time: Evening
  • View: Naked eye, binoculars

Saturn, Venus and a fingernail-thin Moon form a tidy line 10 degrees long, low in the southwestern sky after sunset. Binoculars help improve the view of these celestial sights in the dimming twilight. 

About 2.5 days old and just past perigee, the slender lunar crescent appears about six per cent larger than average. Yesterday the two planets made a close conjunction when they were separated by about a third of a degree, and today they lie a little over a degree apart. At magnitude -3.9, Venus outshines Saturn by a factor of 75 and lies about 229 million kilometres away, compared to Saturn’s 1.6 billion kilometres. 

Saturn is on its way to conjunction with the Sun in February and reappears in the morning sky in early spring. Venus continues to rise rapidly each day on its way to an excellent evening apparition for Canadian observers through late July.

Venus and Jupiter join a large crescent Moon

  • Date: February 22
  • Type: Conjunction
  • Time: Evening
  • View: Naked eye, binoculars

The slender crescent Moon again emerges into the evening twilight sky and joins brightening Venus and fading Jupiter in the southwest after sunset. 

Just three days old and three days past perigee, the Moon appears (as last month) about six per cent larger than average and just 10 per cent illuminated. Venus lies about eight degrees west of the Moon and shines at an impressive magnitude -4.0. The planet continues to rise and grow larger and brighter in the coming weeks. 

Jupiter sits about 1.5 degrees northwest of the lunar crescent. Still impressive through a telescope in steady sky, the planet shines at magnitude -2.1 and its disk appears about 34 arcseconds across. The big planet moves slowly toward conjunction with the Sun in the coming weeks, on its way to reappearing in the eastern pre-dawn sky in May.

Close conjunction of Venus and Jupiter 

  • Date: March 1
  • Type: Conjunction
  • Time: Evening
  • View: Naked eye, binoculars, telescope

Venus and Jupiter make a spectacular close conjunction as they pass just over 0.5 degrees from each other in the southwestern evening sky after sunset. Venus outshines Jupiter by two magnitudes, but both are bright enough for easy naked-eye observation in the darkening twilight sky. 

Observers looking through a telescope can see the pair in the same field of view with an appropriate eyepiece. In a scope, the disk of Venus appears 85 per cent illuminated and spans just over 12 arcseconds. Jupiter spans about 34 arcseconds and easily reveals its two main equatorial belts and three of its four bright Galilean moons.

Three planets and the Moon in the early spring sky 

  • Date: March 23
  • Type: Conjunction
  • Time: Evening
  • View: Naked eye, binoculars

Look to the west after sunset to see Venus, a thin crescent Moon, Jupiter, and Mercury in a 30-degree long line. Venus and the Moon are the highest and most visible of the four, while Jupiter and especially Mercury lie low over the horizon. 

Mercury, just past conjunction with the Sun, shines bright at magnitude -1.6 but may require a pair of binoculars to extract it from the twilight. (For safety, make sure the Sun is down before sweeping for the planet.) Mercury continues to move a little higher each day for the next couple of weeks, and passes just 1.3 degrees northwest of Jupiter on March 27.

The morning Moon brushes the Pleiades

  • Date: July 13
  • Type: Conjunction
  • Time: Morning
  • View: Naked eye, binoculars

Make a plan to rise early on this July morning to get a preview of some winter stars and a waning crescent Moon in the eastern sky before sunrise. The Moon finds itself in Taurus just under three degrees southeast of the Pleiades and nine degrees northwest of the Hyades star cluster. Higher up and to the right sits Jupiter, now rising higher each day in the morning sky, its 38 arcseconds-wide disk shining at magnitude -2.3. If you have binoculars, take a look for fainter Uranus about 11 degrees east of Jupiter.

The Perseids peak in a nearly perfect sky

  • Date: August 12-13
  • Type: Meteor shower
  • Time: All night
  • View: Naked eye

The Perseid meteor shower peaks with the Moon mostly out of the way this year. Predictions put the peak of this reliable and usually splendid shower at 08:00 Universal Time (4:00 a.m. EDT) on August 13, so the night and the early morning of August 12-13 offer the best time to look. That is when Earth turns into the source of the meteors — a stream of debris left by Comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle. 

In a dark sky, some 40 to 60 meteors per hour are common at the peak of the Perseids. Although the peak is the best time to watch for meteors, the entire Perseid meteor shower runs from July 17 to August 24, so watch for stragglers while stargazing during these dates.

The Moon occults Antares

  • Date: August 24
  • Type: Occultation
  • Time: Late afternoon to evening
  • View: Naked eye, binoculars, telescope

A day past first quarter, the Moon passes in front of the bright red-orange star Antares at the heart of Scorpius. The event is visible across much of southern Canada west of Montréal, Québec, at approximately 10:00 p.m. EDT. 

In western Canada, the event happens in the late afternoon through the early evening, when daylight and twilight obscures Antares to the unaided eye. A telescope can reveal the disappearance and reappearance of the star behind the darkened and brightened limbs of the Moon, respectively. 

Most easterly observers see the event happen in darker sky, but with Antares low over the southwestern horizon. 

Solar eclipse falls across North America

  • Date: October 14
  • Type: Annular/partial solar eclipse
  • Time: Morning to early afternoon
  • View: Naked eye, binoculars, telescope (solar filter required)

Observers in a narrow band across the United States, Mexico, and Central and South America see a dramatic annular solar eclipse in which the Moon passes in front of the Sun. The Moon lies too far away from Earth to completely cover the Sun’s disk, leaving a blazing ring around the dark Moon. 

Observers in most of Canada can see a partial solar eclipse to some degree during this event, though geometry and timing favour western observers. In Victoria, British Columbia, the eclipse runs from 8:08 a.m. to 10:38 a.m. PDT with maximum eclipse at 9:20 a.m., when 79 per cent of the Sun is covered. 

In Toronto, Ontario, the eclipse occurs from 11:56 a.m. to 2:25 p.m. EDT with maximum coverage of 27 per cent. Charlottetown in Prince Edward Island sees just seven per cent maximum coverage at 2:35 p.m. Observers and imagers must use a solar filter for the entire duration of this eclipse.

The Orionids arrive

  • Date: October 21-22
  • Type: Meteor shower
  • Time: All night
  • View: Naked eye

The Orionid meteor shower peaks with only a waxing crescent Moon present in the early evening sky. 

Usually one of the best meteor showers of the year, the Orionids yield some 20-40 fast-moving meteors per hour in ideal conditions. Like the Eta Aquariid meteor shower in May, the Orionids are bits of the most famous comet, Comet 1P/Halley, that collide with the upper atmosphere as Earth passes through the comet’s path. 

The shower’s radiant lies near the top of the club of Orion, almost in Gemini, but Orionids can appear anywhere in the sky. The best viewing typically occurs from midnight until dawn, when the radiant emerges into the southeastern sky and the Earth turns into the comet’s debris field.

The Geminids light up the December sky  

  • Date: December 13-14
  • Type: Meteor shower
  • Time: All night
  • View: Naked eye

The Geminid meteor shower, one of the most prolific and reliable of the year, peaks in the late hours of December 13 and into the early morning of the 14th. The Moon, just a couple of days old, stays out of the way this year to allow the faintest meteors to appear in dark sky. 

Geminids appear anywhere in the sky and trace their path back to the radiant in Gemini near the star Castor. Look just after dark for a few brighter Geminids that may enter the atmosphere at a shallow angle and burn slowly across the sky, although most activity happens later in the night and into the following morning. 

The Geminids occur as the Earth passes through a debris stream left by the asteroid 3200 Phaethon, an Apollo asteroid discovered in 1983. The entire shower runs from December 4-17, approximately.