The snake shadow appears on El Castillo on the spring equinox, Chichén Itzá, Yucatán, Mexico

Stargazing 2023: When and where to see planets, comets and eclipses this year


Prepare for liftoff, armchair astronauts: 2023 promises to be an enchanting year for sky-gazing enthusiasts, with fiery eclipses, annual equinox celebrations and blazing meteor showers happening almost every month. 

Whether you’re a traveler willing to make the trek to experience the celestial sublime or a backyard astronomer searching for “shooting stars” (meteors, which burn up in Earth’s atmosphere), there’s something on the calendar to make your year sparkle.

Look up: here are all the happenings you won’t want to miss. 

On the spring equinox, the light falling on Chichén Itzá’s El Castillo pyramid creates a serpentine shadow © BornaMir / iStockphoto / Getty Images

March 20: The spring equinox 

The spring (or vernal) equinox marks one of two days during the year when the sun passes directly over Earth’s equator, creating a near-equal amount of daytime and nighttime globally. In the northern hemisphere, it signals longer days and warmer weather ahead; in the southern hemisphere, it marks autumn’s arrival. 

Human beings around the world have paid homage to this astronomical milestone for millions of years, and it’s moving indeed to celebrate the event at ancient architectural sites around the world. For one of the most impressive displays, fly to Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula, where a slithering shadow crawls across gray limestone on key afternoons of the year, including the spring equinox. The effect is created by El Castillo – a pyramid built around 800 CE within the Mayan complex of Chichén Itzá – whose shadows form the shape of a 120-foot-long snake, believed to honor the serpent god Kukulkán in hopes of a fruitful harvest. 

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April 22–23: The Lyrids meteor shower peaks

Backyard skywatchers can enjoy flares from this light show, set to light up the northern and southern hemispheres with approximately 18 meteors every hour. The event runs from April 15 to 29, with showers peaking on the night of April 22 to 23. The light show comes right around a new moon, making it easy to spot meteors blazing across the sky. 

For the best views, head to an International Dark Sky Park, any of those recognized by the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) for exceptional starry nights. Whether it’s the beech forests of Germany’s Eifel National Park, the desert landscape of Israel’s Makhtesh Ramon Nature Reserve or something closer to home, you’re better off viewing the meteors far from bright urban areas. 

May 5–6: The Eta Aquariids meteor shower peaks

Debris created by Halley’s Comet will send an exceptional number of meteors hurling through Earth’s atmosphere from April 15 to May 27, with a rate of roughly 100 per hour peaking between May 5 and 6. People across the globe will have first-row seats to the spectacle, with one drawback: the moon will be full, making fast-moving comets harder to spot. Pro tip: find a location where the moon is obstructed from view, maximizing your chance of seeing bright blazes. 

Stonehenge at sunset, Wiltshire, England, United Kingdom
The ancient monoliths of Stonehenge famously align with the sun every summer and winter solstice © AndyRoland / Getty Images

June 21: The summer solstice

The northern hemisphere dips toward the sun in late June, basking in its glow for the longest day and shortest night of the year. This marks the summer solstice, observed across perpetually bright locales like Alaska, where residents of Fairbanks celebrate 24 hours of sun with a midnight baseball game – a ritual dating back over a century.

For those intrigued by the ancient art of sun worship, join revelers at England’s Stonehenge, whose monoliths align with the yellow dwarf star during both the summer and winter solstices. In June, thousands of druids, pagans and other mystics cheer as the sun rises above the horizon, bathing the heart of the mysterious 5000-year-old stone circle in its golden rays. The gathering is free and open to the public, though parking fills up quickly; taking public transit is advised. 

August 12–13: The peak of the Perseids meteor shower 

Every summer, the Perseids ignite night skies in the northern hemisphere with what’s arguably nature’s greatest fireworks display. Observation conditions will be ideal this year, with warm weather and a waning crescent moon that won’t wash out the fireballs. The display will occur from July 14 to September 1; in dark-sky locations, it might be possible to see around 100 meteors per hour when the showers peak between August 12 and 13. 

Often devoid of light pollution, US national parks provide some of the best backdrops for the Perseids. Consider camping at Utah’s Arches National Park, Montana’s Glacier National Park or California’s Joshua Tree National Park – all certified as International Dark Sky Parks by the IDA. Book a campsite early on Recreation.gov to secure a spot for all-night sky gazing. 

September 23: The autumnal equinox

Late September marks autumn’s start in the northern hemisphere, with the sun once again hovering over Earth’s equator. Just as with the vernal equinox, ancient temples from Peru’s Machu Picchu to Cambodia’s Angkor Wat honor the changing season with sun-soaked wonders. 

Beat big crowds at popular sites by taking a sojourn to the island nation of Malta, where you’ll find the Mnajdra Temples, a complex built around 3600 BCE. During the autumnal equinox, the first sun rays that peek above the horizon shoot into the corridor of Mnajdra’s south temple, flooding the chamber with light. To see the solar alignment, visit Heritage Malta to book guided tour tickets in advance. Space is limited, ensuring all visitors get a good view. 

Three women wearing protective glasses look up at the sky during a solar eclipse
Wherever you view the “ring of fire” solar eclipse this October, be sure to put on your protective glasses © LeoPatrizi / Getty Images

October 14: A “ring of fire” solar eclipse crosses the western US and Latin America

Queue up your Johnny Cash for October’s annular solar eclipse, set to burn across the Western USA before moving over Central and South America. During this eclipse, the moon will pass across the sun’s center, causing a ring of solar fire to flame around the moon’s shadow.

The orange glow will pass over a swath of US national parks from Texas to Oregon – and visitors at Chaco Culture National Historical Park in New Mexico will be the luckiest. While most locations will see the solar event for roughly two minutes, parts of New Mexico will see it for over four. If you plan to watch the eclipse in person, know that looking directly at the sun without proper eyewear can cause damage. Follow NASA’s safety guidelines for more information. 

December 13–14: The Geminids meteor shower peaks

Much like the Perseids, the Geminids (active from December 4–17) is a reliable meteor shower visible from almost anywhere, and this year boasts near-perfect viewing conditions. With little moonlight, it might be possible to spot over 100 meteors per hour when the event peaks between December 13 and 14. 

December 21: The winter solstice

The shortest day and longest night of the year mark the official start of the northern hemisphere winter. Cultures worldwide greet the darkness with cozy displays of warmth and light, such as bonfires lit during India’s Lohri celebration (observed in January) and yuzu-infused baths popular in Japan. 

In County Meath, Ireland, the holiday is famous for a magical light spectacle that’s taken place for thousands of years. Newgrange, a circular tomb predating Egypt’s pyramids, is aligned with the winter-solstice sunrise, and becomes fully illuminated for 17 minutes between December 18 and 23. Space is limited, and only 60 people are allowed entry annually. Intrigued travelers can apply for a coveted spot through the Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre’s lottery. 



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