Sync Your Calendar With the Solar System
The New York Times has offered this calendar to readers since 2017. It is a collection of newsworthy events in spaceflight and astronomy curated by the paper’s journalists.
The entries below these instruction will be updated regularly to adjust dates and revise information in the calendar’s entries. New events will be added and entries will be removed after they conclude or are indefinitely postponed.
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Follow our live updates of NASA’s Artemis II moon mission announcement.
If you’re looking for space news in April, you won’t have to wait long.
On Monday, NASA will introduce the four astronauts who will travel on the Artemis II mission. The Artemis program — a successor to the Apollo missions of the 1960s and ’70s — aims to return Americans to the moon later in the decade. Artemis II will send three American astronauts and one Canadian on a 10-day journey around the moon and back to Earth, launching as soon as 2024.
The announcement of the mission’s crew will occur at 11 a.m. Eastern time on April 3. They will be the first humans to fly beyond low-Earth orbit and toward the moon since the Apollo 17 mission concluded in 1972.
In the middle of the month, a major European Space Agency mission will send a spacecraft on a long journey toward Jupiter, the solar system’s largest planet. The spacecraft, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer or JUICE, will focus on studying several of the gas giant’s moons: oceanic Europa, massive Ganymede and quirky Callisto.
The mission is scheduled to lift off from Europe’s spaceport in French Guiana on April 13; it will reach the Jovian system in 2031, spend four years performing various flybys and conclude with an orbit of Ganymede.
Near the end of April, a moon landing may occur. Ispace, a private Japanese company, launched its M1 robotic lander in December, carrying cargo built by the space agencies of Japan and the United Arab Emirates. Landing on the moon is perilous, and attempts by India and an Israeli nonprofit ended in crashes in 2019. If Ispace succeeds in touching down on the moon’s surface in one piece, it will be the first private lunar mission to do so.
The spacecraft reached lunar orbit on March 21 and the company has yet to announce the date of its landing attempt.
Skygazers on Earth will have a chance to see one of the first major meteor showers of 2023 in April. The Lyrids meteor shower becomes active on April 15, and reaches peak activity on the night of April 22 into the morning of April 23. With the moon far from full that night, those with clear, dark skies have a shot at seeing fireballs streaking through the heavens.
There will also be a total solar eclipse on April 20. But its path starts in the Indian Ocean, crossing over remote parts of Australia and Indonesia before ending elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific, so it won’t be visible in the Western Hemisphere. You’ll have to wait for October, when an annular eclipse will cross from the American West into South America.
Some important space events originally expected in April were recently postponed. The long-delayed first flight of Boeing’s Starliner capsule carrying astronauts to the International Space Station has been moved to July. Boeing needs to complete certifications that the spacecraft is ready to fly, and traffic on the space station has added to the delays.
A mission to launch a Japanese space telescope, XRISM, also faces delays tied to a launch failure in March of Japan’s new H3 rocket, according to Space News.
Another launch facing delays is the first orbital trip of Starship, SpaceX’s massive reusable rocket. SpaceX officials had suggested a launch in March, ahead of a partly successful ground test of the rocket’s engines in February. The company’s founder, Elon Musk, suggested on Twitter that an April flight was possible.
Jupiter and some of its satellite worlds are the focus of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission led by the European Space Agency. In addition to studying the gas giant world, three of its moons will be studied by the spacecraft’s instruments: Callisto, Ganymede and Europa, all of which are believed to have oceans beneath their surfaces. After a weather-related delay on April 13, the mission will launched on Friday, April 14.
Elon Musk’s plans for the future of SpaceX are riding on Starship and Super Heavy, a fully reusable rocket and booster that when stacked are taller than the State of Liberty and its pedestal. While Starship has flown to high altitudes a number of times, the company has never flown the rocket to space. As early as Monday, April 17, SpaceX will attempt to launch Starship to orbital velocities from a test site in Texas, with the vehicle circling the Earth before splashing down in waters off the coast of the Hawaii and hour later.
This eclipse will primarily be a Southern Hemisphere event, and the moon will only blot out the sun in remote parts of Australia and Indonesia, with partial eclipses visible in other parts of the Asia-Pacific region.
Active from April 15 to 29. Peak night: April 22 to 23
The first springtime shower will peak shortly after a new moon, giving skywatchers the chance to see up to 18 meteors per hour. It is a morning shower, best viewed in the hours before dawn in the Northern Hemisphere, though some activity will be visible in the Southern Hemisphere.
The meteors originate from a comet called C/1861 G1, also known as Thatcher. The nights immediately before and after the shower’s peak are also good times to catch a few streaks across the sky originating from this comet.
Launched in December, Ispace’s M1 lander has been taking a slow, fuel-efficient journey to the moon. The spacecraft will try for the first successful lunar landing by a privately built spacecraft, deploying to the surface a United Arab Emirates rover, a Japanese robot and other cargo.
In what would be the first private mission to another planet, the company Rocket Lab is sending a Photon spacecraft toward Venus where it will fire a small probe to briefly study the toxic world’s atmosphere. We will provide a more precise landing date for this mission when Rocket Lab announces it.
Active from April 15 to May 27. Peak night: May 5 to 6
The Eta Aquariids are one of two showers resulting from the debris field of Halley’s comet, along with the Orionids in October. Debris will enter over Earth’s Equator, meaning it will be visible in both hemispheres all over the world. In past years, the Eta Aquariids have produced 45 to 85 meteors per hour in dark sky conditions.
Unfortunately, the peak for this shower coincides with a full moon on May 5, limiting visibility. But the shower should be highly active for roughly a week before and after that date.
In 2021, Jared Isaacman, the billionaire founder of the payments processor Shift4, took three people to space with him for the mission called Inspiration4. In 2022, he announced there would be additional flights. In 2023, with a new crew in the SpaceX Dragon capsule, Mr. Isaacman wants to fly to a higher orbit and attempt a spacewalk. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Polaris Program announces it.
It’s the scientific start to summer in the Northern Hemisphere, when this half of the world tilts toward the sun. Read more about the importance of the solstice for life on Earth.
NASA has relied on private companies to create new capabilities for the government agency, such as building spacecraft to carry astronauts and cargo to orbit. It is now trying a similar approach for transporting scientific instruments to the moon. A Houston company, Intuitive Machines, may launch its IM-1 mission, using its Nova-C spacecraft to carry payloads to the lunar South Pole region, potentially making it the first spacecraft to land there. Intuitive Machines, flying on a SpaceX rocket, says it will launch in late June. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the company announces one.
Even as the Northern Hemisphere experiences the heat of summer, our planet is at aphelion, the farthest it will get from the sun during its elliptical orbit. Read more about aphelion, and what it’s like on other worlds in our solar system.
Boeing and SpaceX once were racing to be the first to carry NASA astronauts to the International Space Station in a privately built spacecraft. That race ended in 2020 with SpaceX coming out the victor. After technical problems in 2019 and 2021, Boeing finally sent an uncrewed Starliner to the space station in 2022. Now, it will fly a crew of astronauts to the orbital outpost, expanding the number of spacecraft capable of carrying humans to orbit. Boeing had planned to launch in April, but had to complete certifications of the spacecraft’s readiness for flight, which led to additional delays because of traffic at the space station.
Active from July 18 to Aug. 21. Peak night: July 30 to 31
This shower is one of the best for viewers in the southern tropics, though it will also be visible low in the sky for those in the Northern Hemisphere. The moon will be very near full during the peak itself, but streaks from the shower should be observable for a week before or after the peak night. The Southern Delta Aquariids are expected to produce around 20 meteors per hour under dark skies, and are best seen around 3 a.m.
While India successfully orbited a spacecraft around the moon in 2019, its attempt to land a rover to explore the lunar surface ended in a dramatic crash. The country’s space program is trying again. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Indian Space Research Organization announces it.
Active from July 14 to Sept. 1. Peak night: Aug. 12 to 13
Warm summer nights and high rates of fireballs make the Perseids one of the most popular showers of the year. Originating from comet 109P/Swift-Tuttle, which comes back often through the inner solar system, the Perseids frequently put on a great show. The shower is visible only in the Northern Hemisphere, in latitudes below 60 degrees north.
This year, the moon will be a slim crescent in the sky, and our planet will be running into a trail of dust that Swift-Tuttle released in 68 B.C., meaning that conditions should be good for the shower. Nobody knows exactly how many meteors may be seen, though some predict around 100 per hour under dark skies.
The autumnal equinox is one of two points in Earth’s orbit where the sun creates equal periods of daytime and nighttime across the globe. Many mark it as the first day of the fall. See what it looks like from space.
In October 2020, a NASA spacecraft swooped in on Bennu, a near-Earth asteroid, and scooped up rock and dirt from its surface. It then packed away the material and prepared for return to Earth. It began that voyage home in May 2021. The spacecraft will eject a capsule full of asteroid samples that will then re-enter Earth’s atmosphere and parachute to the Utah Test and Training Range to be studied by scientists.
India has launched spacecraft to the moon and Mars, but the country’s space agency has not yet sent its astronauts — known as vyomanauts — to space. Before it can send people to orbit, India needs to conduct uncrewed test flights of its Gaganyaan spacecraft, the first of which it says will occur in the fourth quarter. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the Indian Space Research Organization announces one.
In the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, there is an object that is mostly made of metal, perhaps the leftover core of a would-be planet, called Psyche. A NASA mission of the same name aims to study it up close. A scheduled launch in 2022 was postponed because the spacecraft’s software was late. The mission will launch from a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, and it will enter orbit around the asteroid in 2029, three years later than originally planned.
Some of the United States will be visited by what is sometimes called a “ring of fire” eclipse because the moon is too far from Earth to fully block the sun, creating a ring-like effect when it reaches totality. The eclipse’s path runs through parts of Oregon, California, Nevada, Utah, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas before dipping into Central and South America. Where the weather cooperates, it should be a great solar show and a nice lead up for the total eclipse on Apr. 8, 2024, which will cross the United States from Southwest to Northeast.
Active from Sept. 26 to Nov. 22. Peak night: Oct. 20 to 21
After hitting the outbound trail of Halley’s comet in May, Earth every October runs into the debris the comet leaves as it heads toward the sun, producing the Orionid meteor shower. It is a medium-strength shower, usually producing 10 to 20 streaks per hour, although in exceptional years it can create up to 70 per hour.
The moon will be around a third full this year but will set around midnight, leaving the sky clear of its influence. The shower will be viewable all over the world between midnight and 4 a.m. local time.
Active from Nov. 3 to Dec. 2. Peak night: Nov. 17 to 18
The Leonids are famous for occasionally producing meteor storms. In 1966, 1999 and 2001, the shower’s rates exceeded 1,000 fireballs per hour. This year’s show should be a more placid 15 meteors per hour or so, as the Earth hits debris fields released from its parent body, comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle. The moon will be around a quarter full on the night of peak activity. The shower will be best viewed in the Northern Hemisphere after midnight, and later at night for those in the Southern Hemisphere.
China is getting into the orbital space telescope business. Like a more sophisticated version of the Hubble Space Telescope, Xuntian will survey the universe at optical and ultraviolet wavelengths from an orbit around Earth close to the country’s Tiangong space station. We will provide a more precise launch date for this mission when the China National Space Administration announces it.
The Andromedids are a historical shower previously thought to be defunct. Accounts by astronomers in China from 1872 and 1885 describe incredible meteor displays in which “stars fell like rain.” But the event had not produced much until 2011, when around 50 meteors per hour could be seen. It also produced a short and quite strong return in 2021.
Originating from comet 3D/Biela, the Andromedids are expected to flare once again this year, although nobody knows how strong they may be. If they appear, the meteors will be visible in Asia in the late evening just before midnight. The rising three-quarters-full moon is likely to hamper visibility after that.
Active from Dec. 4 to 17. Peak night: Dec. 13 to 14
Often one of the best and most reliable showers of the year, the Geminids will occur during a new moon this year, providing ideal conditions as long as the weather cooperates.
Viewers in northern latitudes should be able to start seeing the shower in the evening after sunset, while the action begins for those in the Southern Hemisphere after midnight. Rates could be as high as 150 meteors per hour.
It’s the scientific start to winter in the Northern Hemisphere, when this half of the world tilts away from the sun. Read more about the solstice.
Active from Dec. 17 to 26. Peak night: Dec. 22 to 23
Coming shortly after the Geminids, the Ursids are an often-overlooked minor shower that gets its name because they seem to spring from the Little Dipper, which is part of Ursa Minor.
The Ursid meteor shower will peak shortly after the new moon, meaning they will only be somewhat affected by its light. Viewers can expect to see seven to 10 meteors per hour, although it is strictly a Northern Hemisphere affair.
You wouldn’t want to live on Io, the rambunctious volcanic moon of Jupiter. But you might want to get a good look at its eruptions (from a safe distance). So would the scientists working on NASA’s Juno mission. After years of studying the atmosphere and interior of Jupiter, the spacecraft has conducted close flybys of two less perilous moons, Ganymede and Europa. The first close flyby of Io will bring Juno within 1,000 miles of the satellite world and its outbursts.
On any given night, far from bright city lights, there’s a chance that you’ll see a beautiful streak shoot across the sky as a meteor flies overhead. But on special dates scattered throughout the year, skywatchers can catch a multitude of flares as meteor showers burst in the darkness.
Meteor showers occur when our planet runs into the debris fields left behind by icy comets or rocky asteroids going around the sun. These small particles burn up in the atmosphere, leading to blazing trails of light. The regularity of orbital mechanics means that any given meteor shower happens at roughly the same time each year, with the changing phases of the bright moon being the main variable affecting their visibility.
The coming year should be a good one for meteor lovers. The biggest events — the summer Perseids and the winter Geminids — will peak when the moon is either waning or new, meaning its bright light won’t interfere much with the spectacular displays.
Those outside the United States may catch a glimpse of the Andromedids, a shower that astronomers had considered dead until it showed some activity in 2011 and is expected to potentially return again this year.
Subscribe to the Times Space and Astronomy Calendar to get a reminder ahead of these events.
How to see a shower
The best practice is to head out to the countryside and get as far from artificial light sources as possible. People in rural areas may have the luxury of just stepping outside. But city-dwellers have options, too.
Many cities have an astronomical society that maintains a dedicated dark sky area. “I would suggest contacting them and finding out where they have their location,” Robert Lunsford, the secretary general of the International Meteor Organization, said in an interview with The New York Times in 2022.
Meteor showers are usually best viewed when the sky is darkest, after midnight but before sunrise. To see as many meteors as possible, wait 30 to 45 minutes after you get to your viewing location. That will allow your eyes to adjust to the dark. Then lie back and take in a large swath of the night sky. Clear nights, higher altitudes and times when the moon is slim or absent are best. Mr. Lunsford suggested a good rule of thumb: “The more stars you can see, the more meteors you can see.”
Binoculars or telescopes aren’t necessary for meteor showers, and in fact will limit your view.
How meteor showers form
Each shower peaks on a certain date when Earth is plowing into the densest portion of the debris field, though in some cases many meteors can still be seen before or after that specific night.
A shower is named for a constellation in the part of the sky it appears to streak from. But there’s no need to be perfectly versed in every detail of the celestial sphere. Meteors should be visible all over the sky during any given shower.