4 things to watch in space and astronomy in 2023

JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer)

The moons of Jupiter have been at the forefront of astronomy since Galileo discovered them in 1610. At the time, using his primitive homemade telescope, he could see nothing more than four “stars” moving oddly around the planet. Little did he know that those fours stars, would turn out to be some of the most exciting places in the Solar System. The Jupiter Icy Moons explorer also know as JUICE will visit three of the moons – Europa, Calisto and Ganymede.

All three of these moons are exciting in their own way. All the moons have the potential for subsurface liquid ocean and it is possible that conditions could be right for life. Ganymede is the largest moon in Solar System and scientists think that the subsurface ocean on Ganymede contains more water than all of the water on the surface of Earth it also is the only known moon to have a magnetic field. While Juice will visit Europa and Calisto, the main target of the mission is Ganymede.

JUICE is scheduled to launch aboard an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana between 5th and 25th April. It will reach Jupiter in July 2031 and enter orbit around Ganymede in 2034. When it arrives, it will be first time the European Space Agency (ESA) sends a spacecraft beyond the asteroid belt.


MeteOr Showers

Meteor showers are one of the most accessible forms of astronomy. All you need to enjoy them is warm clothes and ideally a recliner chair or beanbag to lie back and relax on. In fact, binoculars or a telescope would actually be a hindrance for meteor watching. All you need to do is lie back and look up. Don’t worry too much about the direction as they can appear anywhere but you must be patient and wait!

Meteors are caused when tiny particles of dust left behind by comets crash into the Earth’s atmosphere and vaporise. The trails of dust left behind by the comets are in the same place in the Solar System, so the Earth smashes into them at the same time each year which is why the showers occur during the same month year after year. One of the factors that can affect meteor watching is light pollution. This can be caused by artificial lights or the Moon. Try to get away from any bright lights, to the darkest location you can. If the Moon is up, there isn’t a lot you can do. However, this year most of the main meteor showers occur when the Moon is out of the way so this year is a good year to go meteor spotting.

  • Lyrids 16th – 25th April, peak 22nd/23rd April.
  • Perseids 17th July – 24th August, peak 13th August.
  • Orionids 2nd October – 7th November, peak 21st/22nd October.
  • Leonids 6th -30th November, peak 17th/18th November.
  • Geminids 7th – 17th December, peak 13th/ 14th December.

Irelands first Satellite – Eirsat-1

Artists concept of Eirsat-1 Credit: UCD

EIRSAT-1 is a project by a team at UCD to design, build and operate Ireland’s first satellite. The project is being run in partnership with the European Space Agencies. Fly Your Satellite program offers university teams the opportunity to learn the life cycle of a space mission through launching a CubeSat. A CubeSat is a very small satellite, usually somewhere between the size of a carton of milk and a shoe box. These are a lot cheaper and quicker to build and launch.

There are three payloads abord EIRSAT-1. GMOD is a gamma ray detector module which has been miniaturised  and if successful would offer an alternative the current bulky photo multiplier tube detectors. EMOD short for ENBIO MODule is a test of two protective coatings made by ENBIO in Ireland. The final payload is called Wave Based Control (WBC) and is a software payload. It is a new way of controlling the altitude of he spacecraft and was designed in UCD.

EIRSAT-1 is built and ready to launch. Initially the launch was scheduled to take place abord a Vega C rocket from French Guiana in early 2023. However, the last launch of the Vega C rocket failed to put two Earth observation satellites into orbit in December. This threw the launch of EIRSAT-1 up into the air as the rocket will be grounded until the investigation into what went wrong is complete so it remains to be seen if we will see Ireland’s first satellite, this year.


I think there is something spectacular about Venus in the evening sky. It’s one of the brightest objects in the sky, only being beaten on brightness by the Sun and the Moon and is usually seen in either the morning or evening sky during the twilight hours when the sky is lovely with vibrant blue, pink and orange colours. It is particularly convenient when this happens in the evening sky as it means we get to see it without wakening up at the crack of dawn.

Venus returns to our evening sky in January and you will see it low in the west just after sunset. By the middle of February it will not set until about 2 hours after the Sun and by 1st May it will be high in the west after Sunset, not setting until 4 hours after the Sun. Throughout this period there will be many times when Venus will be close to the crescent Moon which is a particularly beautiful sight. You can check out the monthly sky guide for these events. As Venus moves through the sky it will also come close to some other objects in the night sky. Towards the end of January (21st-22nd), you can watch out for Saturn close by. On 1st March it’s Jupiter’s turn to meet Venus and the two should be hard to miss, being the two brightest objects in the sky. Finally on 10th April Venus gets very close to the Pleiades star cluster. Expect plenty of “UFO” sightings in the first half of 2023.

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