Sky Guide 2012
If unusual astronomical events excite you, then 2012 may blow you away. The rarest of all predictable events — a transit of Venus — takes place June 5 or 6 (the date depends on where you live). Venus’ black disk last crossed the Sun’s disk in 2004 and won’t do so again until 2117. So, if not exactly a once-in-a-lifetime experience, a Venus transit certainly qualifies as a twice-in-a-lifetime event.
Viewers in northern North America, northern Europe, northern and eastern Asia, Hawaii, New Zealand, and eastern Australia will see the transit’s entire 6-hour duration. Those in the rest of North America will witness the early stages before sunset; those in the rest of Asia, most of Europe, and eastern Africa will see the final stages after sunrise. You can view the transit with naked eyes or with optical aid as long as you use a safe solar filter.
Although not as rare as a Venus transit, total solar eclipses are even more spectacular. The next total eclipse takes place November 13/14. Viewers can watch totality from a narrow path that cuts across northern Australia and the Pacific Ocean.
For planet-watchers, the highlight of 2012 may be the return of Mars to prominence. It will reach opposition and peak visibility in March for the first time in 26 months. Saturn and Jupiter also put on nice displays, with Saturn at its best in April and Jupiter in December.
Meteor observers should target the major showers in the second half of 2012. The Perseids in August, the Leonids in November, and the Geminids in December all peak with the Moon either out of the sky or appearing as a thin crescent that won’t adversely affect the viewing.
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