Night sky spectacles expected this year

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THE YEAR 2013 is one of the good years for those who love to check the night skies. Two comets that will be visible to the naked eye highlight the clumping of five planets, two lunar eclipses and eight meteor showers.

Here are some of the most notable stellar events we should look forward to and pray a cloudless sky for.

1 The world heaved a sigh of relief last Jan. 9 when the 325-meter-wide “doomsday asteroid” 99942 Apophis got closer to Earth at just 14.5 million kilometers (that’s 37 times the Earth-Moon distance). This same asteroid, named after an Egyptian demon, is expected to come uncomfortably close in 2029, brushing past the Earth at a distance of just 30,000 kilometers or inside the orbit of communication satellites.

The 57-meter 2012 DA14 will pass much closer to Earth than our geostationary satellites as its flyby-will pass just 34,500 kilometers away from us! If it did enter the Earth’s atmosphere and explode, the force would be enough to destroy a major city.

2 The year 2013 is set to become a two-comet year. In March, a good seven months before Ison starts its slow glide across the night sky, Comet Panstarrs will be—if it lives up to predictions—another bright streak in the evening sky.

3 A Partial lunar eclipse will take place on April 26—the first of three lunar eclipses in 2013. Here in the Philippines, we will be able to view the event at around 4 a.m. Expect the northern half of the moon to get darker as it enters the penumbral (partially shaded region as opposed to the darkest area of the shadow) cast by our home planet.

4 On April 28, the ringed planet Saturn will be closest to Earth and its “face” will be fully illuminated by the Sun. This is the best time for those with telescopes to view and photograph Saturn and its moons.

5 Sky gazers will have a feast around sunset of May 29 as planets Venus, Jupiter and Mercury will appear clumped together on the western horizon. The planet Mars will also make its own appearance in the evening sky but rises in the east a few hours after sunset.

6 Sky gazers may be in for a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity in October as we expect to witness a comet (if calculations are correct) whose glow and tail could outshine the Moon!

According to a National Aeronautics and Space Administration astronomer, the newly discovered Comet Ison may hover into view without the help of a telescope from October 2013 through January 2014.

The last time a really bright comet was visible in the sky was when Hale-Bopp passed by in 1997.

Don’t have a decent telescope to observe these events? If you’re here in Metro Manila, there are two astronomical observatories to go to (in Pagasa inside the University of the Philippines Diliman campus in Quezon City and the Manila Observatory inside the Ateneo de Manila University campus, also in Quezon City) as well as private amateur astronomers based at the Seven Suites Hotel Observatory on Sumulong Highway in Antipolo City or those connected with the Astronomical League of the Philippines (jkty@astroleaguephils.org).

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