Top Astronomy Events for 2024

Astronomy 2024 features the final total solar eclipse for the CONUS until 2044, and much more.

It’s finally time. On April 8th, 2024, the umbral shadow of the Moon crosses the United States for the second time in less than seven years. It’s a big deal, for sure. But there’s lots more in store for astronomy 2024. Here’s our annual Universe Today rundown for top skywatching events to watch for in astronomy 2024, coming to a sky near you.

Astronomy 2024: The Year in Brief

The turn of the calendar sees us just over three months out from the April 8th total solar eclipse across North America. Many late eclipse chasers are now presented with a choice: do I head towards the better prospects for clear skies in Mexico or Texas, or take my chances with the dicey springtime skies of the U.S. northeast or the Canadian Maritimes?

Top 12 Events: Astronomy 2024

Astronomy is always a paradox of knowns and unknowns. Eclipses and occultations are surefire bets in a clockwork Universe, while clear skies and whether the next touted ‘great comet’ or meteor outburst will perform are less certain. Here’s our quick rundown of the ‘best of the best’ skywatching events for 2024:

-The April 8th total solar eclipse across North America

-The Eta Aquariid meteor shower on May 6th, with a ZHR=50

-Mercury passes 7’ from Jupiter on June 4th

-The September 18th partial lunar eclipse for the Americas, Europe and Africa

-The October 2nd annular solar eclipse for the southern tip of South America

-The 2024 apparition of Comet 12P (which reaches perihelion on April 21st)

-The Moon occults Saturn 10 times in 2024

-The Moon occults Spica eight times and Antares fourteen times in 2024

-Solar activity ramps up ahead of the peak of Solar Cycle 25

-The Moon heads towards a Major Lunar Standstill in January 2025

-Comet C/2023 A3 Tsuchinshan-ATLAS may be bright towards the end of 2024

-A Leonid meteor outburst in November 2024?

Catching the total solar eclipse in 2017. Credit: Dave Dickinson

The Sun, Seasons and Solar Cycle in 2024

Expect the Sun to be busy in 2024 in terms of space weather and sunspots, as we head towards the peak of the solar cycle 25 in 2025. 2023 had an average sunspot number of around 120 and no spotless days, the first year since 2015 where this was the case. In fact, solar activity in 2023-2024 is climaxing well ahead of expectations, leading to a stronger than expected solar maximum in 2024. This means more sunspots, more wild space weather, and more aurorae for folks watching from mid- to high- northern latitudes.

The astronomical seasons for the northern hemisphere in 2024 kick off on:

Spring (northward) equinox: March 20th

Summer (northward) solstice: June 20th

Fall (southward) equinox: September 22nd

Winter (southward) solstice: December 21st

Of course, things are reversed south of the equator. Aurorae tend to pick up around the equinox due to a phenomenon known as the Russell-McPherron Effect and so does GEOSat flare season, as satellites way out in geosynchronous/geostationary orbit brighten into naked eye visibility, then wink out when they hit the Earth’s shadow.

The solstice tends to see spans where the International Space Station enters reaches full illumination, favoring the northern hemisphere in June and the southern hemisphere in December.

In 2024, the Earth reaches perihelion on January 2nd, and aphelion July 5th.

SOHO Transits
Transits through the field of view for the Solar Heliospheric Observatory (SOHO’s) LASCO C3 and C2 imagers for 2024. Credit: Worachate Bloonplod.

The Moon in 2024

The path of the Moon continues its trek towards the Major Lunar Standstill in early 2025, riding extra high versus the ecliptic and the horizon in the winter season, and low in the summer.

The Moon also reaches its closest perigee for 2024 on March 10th at 356,893 kilometers distant, and is at its farthest apogee on October 2nd at 406,516 kilometers distant.

We also have a ‘Black Moon’ on December 30th, with the second New Moon in a month with two. February 24th is the ‘Minimoon’ or smallest apparent Moon for the year, and October 17th is the Supermoon or largest Full Moon of 2024.

The high declination also means the Moon begins to approach the Pleiades (Messier 45) in 2024. The Moon started to occult stars in the outer ‘Seven Sisters’ once every lunation on September 5th, 2023 and will continue to do so until July 7th, 2029. These occultations become more central in 2024 and 2025, and the best ones to watch for in 2024 are:

-September 22nd for North America (75% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon)

-October 19th for southern Asia (92% illuminated, waning, gibbous Moon)

-November 16th for North America (99% illuminated, Full Moon)

-December 13th for southern Asia (96 illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon)

The September 22nd occultation of the Pleiades by the Moon. Credit: Occult 4.2/Stellarium

The Moon also occults (passes in front of) several bright stars and planets in its passage through the sky. The Moon occults Antares 14 times in 2024, and Spica 8 times:

Antares Events

(note: ‘+/- denotes waxing/waning phase for the Moon, along with the percent illuminated).

-January 8th for western North America (-11% Moon)

-February 5th for southeast Asia (-24% Moon)

-March 3rd for Central America (-51% Moon)

-March 30th for the central Pacific (-77% Moon)

-April 26th for the Middle East and east Africa (-93% Moon)

-May 24th for northern South America (-99% Moon)

-June 20th for the central Pacific (+70% Moon)

-July 17th for South Africa (+84% Moon)

-August 14th for the South Pacific (+70% Moon)

-September 10th for western Australia (+45% Moon)

-October 7th for the South Atlantic (+21% Moon)

-November 4th for the southeast Pacific (+10% Moon)

-December 1st for South Africa (+1% Moon)

-December 28th for the central Pacific (-6% Moon)

The Moon occults Spica on July 14th. Credit: Occult 4.1.2.

Spica Events:

-June 16th for Russia (+73% Moon)

-July 14th for North America (+58% Moon)

-August 10th for southeast Asia (+32% Moon)

-September 6th for East Africa (+12% Moon)

-October 3rd for Hawaii (in the daytime, +1% Moon)

-November 27th for North America (-12% Moon)

-December 24th for southeast Asia (-26% Moon)

The Moon occults Saturn on September 17th. Credit: Occult 4.1.2.

Planetary occultations: next, there are 15 lunar versus planetary occultations in 2024, involving 4 planets:

-Mercury (March 11th) by the +3% Moon, for the South Pacific

-Venus (April 7th) (daytime) by the -2% Moon, for eastern North America

-Venus (September 5th) by the +6% Moon for Antarctica

-Mars (May 5th) by the -8% Moon for Madagascar

-Mars (December 18th) by the ~87% Moon for the Arctic

Saturn Occultation Events:

-April 6th by the -7% Moon for Antarctica

-May 3rd by the -26% Moon for the southern Indian Ocean

-May 31st by the -39% Moon for southern South America

-June 27th by the -64% Moon for northern New Zealand

-July 24th by the -86% Moon for southeast Asia

-August 21st by the -95% Moon for northern South America and northwest Africa

-September 17th by the +99% Moon for western North America

-October 14th by the +89% Moon for India and eastern Africa

-November 11th by the +77% Moon for Central America

-December 8th by the +51% Moon for the western Pacific

The path of the April 8th total solar eclipse across North America. Credit: Michael Zeiler

Eclipses in 2024

Of course, the Great North American Eclipse on April 8th, 2024 dominates the year. But 2024 also features other eclipses as well spanning two eclipse seasons, including:

-March 25th: an 87% penumbral lunar eclipse, favoring the Americas.

-April 8th: A total solar eclipse, (maximum totality: 4 minutes and 28 seconds) spanning North America. This eclipse ‘could’ feature a rare treat, with (naked eye?) comet 12P/Pons-Brooks nearby, just 25 degrees east of the Sun.

-September 18th: A 9% partial lunar eclipse favoring the Americas, Europe and Africa.

-October 2nd: An annular eclipse with a maximum annularity of 7 minutes, 25 seconds favoring the southern tip of South America.

4 eclipses (2 lunar and 2 solar) is the minimum number that a calendar year can contain.

Annular Eclipse
The path of the October 2nd, 2024 annular solar eclipse. NASA/GSFC/A.T. Sinclair

The Inner Planets in 2024

The two inner planets Mercury and Venus never stray far from the Sun. In early 2024 Venus lingers in the dawn, but does not reach greatest elongation in 2024. Instead, Venus reaches inferior conjunction on the solar farside opposite to the Earth on June 4th, transitioning from the dawn to the dusk sky.

Mercury reaches greatest elongation 7 times in 2024, an extra one versus its normal six:

-24 degrees west at dawn (January 12th)

-19 degrees east at dusk (March 24th)

-26 degrees west at dawn (May 9th)

-27 degrees east at dusk (July 22nd)

-18 degrees west at dawn (September 5th)

-23 degrees east at dusk (November 16th)

-22 degrees west at dawn (December 25th)

-Venus also occults the +6.4 magnitude star HIP 86060 for India on January 18th, and the +4.7 magnitude star HIP 92111 on (February 1st) for Brazil.

Mercury and Venus also both transit the open star cluster Messier 44 in 2024:

-Mercury meets M44 on July 6th (with asteroid 4 Vesta nearby!), 24 degrees from the Sun.

Venus meets M44 on July 18th, 11 degrees from the Sun.

The Outer Planets in 2024

Saturn’s ring angle in 2024 is 2 to 5 degrees wide, as they head towards edge on in March 23rd, 2025. Meanwhile, Jupiter’s outermost moon Callisto continues to ‘miss’ Jupiter, though that’ll change as the orbital plane of the Galilean moons head towards edge-on once again in 2026.

Saturn rings: from wide open, to approaching edge-on in 2024. Credit: Shahrin Ahmad.

Oppositions and the best season to observe the outer planets in 2024 include:

-Pluto (June 23rd)

-Saturn (September 8th)

-Neptune (September 21st)

-Uranus (November 17th)

-Jupiter (December 7th)

The top planet versus planet conjunction for 2024 is Mercury versus Jupiter on June 4th 7’ apart and 12 degrees west of the Sun at dawn.

June 4th conj
Mercury meets Jupiter at dawn on June 4th. Credit: Stellarium.

The top bright star versus asteroid occultation for 2024 occurs on June 29th, when asteroid 2819 Ensor occults the +3.2 magnitude star Phi Sagittarii for north Asia.

The top star versus planet conjunction for 2024 is Mercury versus Regulus on September 9th 30’ apart, 17 degrees west of the Sun at dawn.

Astronomy 2024: Meteor Showers

There are 112 meteor showers known and recognized by the International Astronomical Union (IAU), about a dozen of which are major annual favorites. Of course, showers are always best when the pesky light-polluting Moon is near New and out of the way. In 2024, the best showers versus the Moon are:

-Eta Aquariids (May 6th) -1% Moon, ZHR~50

-Daytime Arietids (June 7th) +4% Moon ZHR~30

-Delta Aquariids (July 30th) -18% Moon ZHR~30

-Taurids (October 10th) +45% Moon ZHR~10

-Andromedids (December 10th) +5% Moon ZHR~20

Is a Leonid outburst due for November 14th 2024? The Earth may encounter the 1633 trail for source comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle… the same stream that caused the 2001 outburst.

Comet 12P
Comet 12P versus the bright star Vega. Credit: Dan Bartlett.

Comets to Watch For in 2024

We’re certainly due for the next great comet of the century. Though there’s nothing amazing to see in the sky in terms of comets (yet), that could all swiftly change with the discovery of a bright new comet inbound. As of writing this in late December 2023, these are the following comets expected to break binocular visibility:

-12P/Pons-Brooks reaches magnitude +3.9 at perihelion on April 21st in the constellation Taurus, 21 degrees east on the Sun.

-13P/Olbers reaches magnitude +7.5 at perihelion on July 1st in the constellation Lynx, 21 degrees east of the Sun.

-144P/Kushida reaches perihelion on January 26th at magnitude +7.9 in the constellation Taurus, 126 degrees east of the Sun.

-C/2021 S3 PanSTARRS reaches perihelion on February 15th at magnitude +7.4 in the constellation Pegasus, 23 degrees east of the Sun.

-Comet C/2023 A3 Tsuchinshan-ATLAS reaches perihelion on September 28th at magnitude +2.5 in the constellation Hercules, 83 degrees east of the Sun.

Comet T-Atlas
Comet Tsuchinshan-ATLAS at dawn in late September. Credit: Starry Night.

Weirdness and More:

Looking farther out afield, a few double stars on our ‘orbits with spans with short enough to live through’ reach maximum separation in 2023-2025:

-70 Ophiuchus reaches a maximum separation of 6.7”;

-Delta Equulei reaches a maximum separation of 0.3”; and

-The ‘Pup’ of the Dog Star Sirius B reaches its maximum apparent separation of 11.5 arc seconds on its 50-year orbit. True story: I ‘finally’ got to cross the Pup off my visual observing life list in 2023, courtesy of Richard Drumm and his access to the 26-inch refractor at the Charlottesville Virginia McCormick Observatory.

Also, 2050.00 celestial coordinates come into vogue in 2025 versus 2000.00, as we’ll officially be closer to 2050 than 2000… it’s strange to think, we’ve been using 2000.00 (and occasionally, 1950.00) for most of our lives.

Awaiting totality in 2017. Credit: Dave Dickinson.

Astronomy 2024…and a Teaser for 2025

…and as always, there’s more to come. 2025 sees the peak of Solar Cycle 25, the Moon at Major Lunar Standstill, Saturn’s rings edge on, Mars at opposition, two total lunar and two partial solar eclipses and more.

Don’t miss all of these events and more in Astronomy 2024!