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Days to gaze this year

Date

Perry Vlahos

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Comet Lovejoy put on a show when it appeared in our skies in 2011.

Comet Lovejoy put on a show when it appeared in our skies in 2011.

EACH year the Astronomical Society of Victoria publishes the Astronomical Yearbook, which includes predictable phenomena that are observable in the coming 12 months. It does not include unpredictable celestial events such as new comet discoveries, the southern lights or bright meteors that may take us by surprise. Not all phenomena make good naked-eye sights, so here is my subjective list of those worth making the effort to see.

I was going to recommend two comets, but new observations suggest Comet PANSTARRS, visible during February and March, may be a bit of a fizzer. However, Comet ISON should become an easy naked-eye target from November through December.

It's been said of comets that they're a lot like cats: both have tails and both do what they want, when they please. Hence, I don't like making predictions on how they may perform, for the road behind me is littered with the bodies of astronomers having fallen on their swords following comets that did not live up to expectations. However, all things being equal, Comet ISON will be a spectacle not to be missed.

Keep in mind when observing comets, the further you can get from city lights, the better they will look.

There's an annular eclipse of the sun on May 10, when the moon is at its furthest from the Earth and will not appear large enough to cover the sun completely, leaving a thin ring around the outside. This can be a stunning sight, though not matching the beauty of a total solar eclipse. To see the ''annulus'' - Latin for ''ring'' - you'll need to be in northern Queensland or in the Pacific Ocean. From south-east Australia we will see a partial eclipse.

Late May also brings what I like to call the ''dance of the planets'', in which Venus, Mercury and Jupiter will change their positions nightly, low in the western sky, varying their proximity to one another. All it needs is a square-dance caller to holler out the moves. The best view of Mercury for the year will be immediately after twilight in the western sky from early September through to late October.

As for meteor showers, the most promising for the southern hemisphere will be the Eta Aquarid shower, peaking about May 5. Maximum activity is difficult to predict to the exact hour, so it will be worth watching eastward after 2.30am on May 4 and May 6.

The biggest full moon for the year will be on June 23, when its phase coincides with the moon's closest point to Earth.

And finally, Venus will be very prominent and bright in the western sky after sunset later in the year, during spring and early summer.

I'll be tweeting the latest news on all of these - if you're following me. Enjoy.

@Perryastronomy