What awaits us in 2007?


At the end of one year, we're always looking what will be in the next, and on astronomical front, we can try to predict some nature events (like comets), be sure about the others (like meteor showers), and hope for the space missions to successfully launch...

So what will the next year bring to us?

Constellations stay the same throughout our lifetime, as do most of the deep sky objects, but those wondering stars (the planets) are constantly shifting. And here is a list of the best times for particular planets:

Mercury: You will not see any detail on Mercury for sure, but it's sometimes nice to spot it as a little dot close to the Sun in the sunsets, or sunrises for early birds. What you need to know is its greatest elongation (when it's furthest away from the Sun looking from Earth).

The greatest eastern elongation (when you should scout for Mercury in the evening) falls on February 7th (18 degrees), June 3rd (23 degrees), and October 1st (26 degrees). Thus best day spans are: January 31st - February 14th, May 17th - June 18th and September 2nd - October 16th.

The greatest western elongation (when you should scout for Mercury in the morning) falls on March 22nd (28 degrees), July 20th (20 degrees), November 9th (19 degrees). Thus best day spans are: March 3rd - April 18th, July 10th - August 1st, November 2nd - November 20th.

Venus: The planet a lot of layman are interested, since it's named by the Goddess of Love. But you can't see much detail on it, since it's covered in thick clouds. One nice thing to watch for are thin crescents of it, which "mimic" the Moon's phases. As with Mercury, since it's "close" to sun, it's best to view it during eastern or western elongations. Given that its revolution around the Sun is quite longer then the Mercury one, we only have few elongations in a year.

Greatest eastern elongation is on June 9th (45 degrees), and the greatest western elongation is on October 29th (46 degrees). Nice viewing dates for Venus viewing thus are from the start of the year until August 8th in the evening, and from August 27 to the end of year in the morning.

For a nice thin crescent of Venus look for a few days around August 3rd, and then around September 8th.

NOTE: Planets following are seen only by night, and though you might want to spend the whole night by your telescope, I have limited viewing times from the start of the evening until midnight...

Mars: The Red Planet. It's best to view when we're closest to him, and this will be at the end of year, on December 19th. But the nice dates for spending time with Mars in your eyepiece starts from half of September, when he'll creep over eastern horizon around midnight, and from that point continue to rise earlier and earlier till the end of 2007. In the month of December, he'll rise as early as the evening sets in. Then give him a few hours to climb up the sky for nicer viewing.

Jupiter: The Giant of the Giants. Famous for his Big Red Spot and the Red Spot Jr, both immersed in a mesmerizing blend of clouds and it's easily seen Galilean satellites. The best viewing time from for his majesty will be during summer. You can expect him to start rising from the 1st week of April around midnight, and we'll lose him around 1st week of July. So we'll spend the time with Jupiter just before summer vacations. Unfortunately, this year he will be quite low near horizon even at best times. The atmospheric effect will do it's toll and you cannot expect steady image in your telescope.

Saturn: The Ring Bearer has started to show up at the end of 2006 in the evening sky and it'll be in a nice position for viewing until around the middle of February. Contrary to Jupiter atmospheric issues he'll ride high, and be a joy to look at.

One thing that will be interesting is that it's rings will tilt by 6 degrees, which should be visible over a timespan of Saturns visibility.

Uranus and Neptun: This gas giants are seen as stars themselves. At their best you can see a faint glimpse of color in them, and for Uranus you might even resolve the disk shape. They are fun to find, but you'll not spend your days searching for them as the primary night sight...

That's for the planets, but Sun and Moon will play another neat trick for Earth observers. In 2007 we will have two total lunar eclipses. The first one, on March 3rd, will be completely visible over Europe and Africa, while the second will fall on August 28th, which will be seen mostly in America, Asia and Australia.

On the comet front, according to Jonathan Shanklin of British Astronomical Association & Society for Popular Astronomy - Comet Section:

"2007 is a poor year and whilst it sees the possible return of 29 periodic comets only a few of these are likely to come within range of visual observation with moderate apertures. 8P/Tuttle may reach binocular brightness at the end of the year, though strictly it belongs with the comets of 2008."

You can read a more detailed description at Comet Prospects for 2007

The brightest meteor showers, Perseids (August 13, 5h UT) and Geminids (December 14, 17h UT), will be spectacular this year, since Moon will be in the New Moon phase.

This leaves end of this 2007 review with space missions for 2007. Four missions look interesting:

  • Herschel Mission by ESA - a satellite with a 3.5-metre diameter mirror telescope. Herschel will cover the spectral range from far-infrared to sub-millimetre wavelengths, thus scientist hope it'll give us valuable data for wealth of cosmological questions related to the creation and life of galaxies.
  • Planck Mission by ESA - will also try to give us cosmology related information, in fact Planck will launch together with Herschel, but they will operate independently. This satellite will look at CMB (Cosmic Microwave Background) radiation, thus somewhat continuing the work of NASA's COBE - Cosmic Background Explorer and WMAP - Wilkinson Microwave Anisotropy Probe, but with higher accuracy. It's data will try to confirm or clarify the answers of age of the universe, it's future, and look into the nature of "dark matter".
  • Phoenix Mars Mission by NASA - Phoenix is designed to study soil qualities on the arctic plains of Mars, specifically looking for water near the surface. It is scheduled for launch in August 2007.
  • Dawn Mission by NASA - is headed for asteroid belt where it'll study Ceres and Vista. The Dawn mission will launch in May 2006.
  • SELENE (JAXA) - will explore the origin and evolution of Moon, and also be used to further future scientific missions on the Moon. It is planned to be launched in the middle of 2007.