Challenge: Explore the Sky 2022-2023
Updated: Dec 18, 2022
Our annual Observational Challenge is back!
During the months of December 2022 and January 2023, we invite you to discover the sky. There are so many beautiful things to see when you take the time to look up! With this challenge, you will have the chance to observe the Moon in several of its phases, the planets Jupiter, Saturn, Mars and Venus, and to identify several stars and constellations!
Here you will find information on the different observations to be made and the best times to do them.
SPECIAL INVITATION TO TEACHERS AND EDUCATORS!
Register for our challenge activity to receive additional educational material that will allow you to complete this Challenge with your students and learn more about the celestial objects and phenomena. You will also be introduced to exoplanets! This activity is presented in collaboration with
the Institute for Research on Exoplanets in Montreal!
You can download the Challenge Sheet to note your observations. If you're lucky with the weather and manage to fill it, you can use another one or any simple observational journal.
Click the image above to download the Challenge Sheet (PDF).
The Proposed Observations
NOTE: These observations are visible throughout southern Canada and at similar latitudes (such as Europe). Some of them could be a challenge under more northern latitudes. Contact us if you have any questions!
Click on the arrow of each item to see the image and the description!
1 - First Quarter Moon
A few days after the Crescent Moon, it is possible to observe the First Quarter Moon. The Moon shines because it reflects light from the Sun. In the first quarter, the lit portion of the Moon looks like the capital letter D 🌓. This phase of the Moon is visible in the afternoon and early evening.
During the Challenge, the best dates to observe the First Quarter Moon are around November 30, December 29, and January 28, 2023.
2 - The planets Jupiter and Saturn
This year, Jupiter and Saturn are visible at the beginning of the night towards the south and southwest. Jupiter is by far the brighter of the two: it is the brightest point of light in this direction and will be the first you will see! Saturn is not as bright, below and to the right.
During the Challenge, you can observe these planets every night. It will be especially interesting when the Moon is near them. From Nov. 28 to Dec. 2, the Moon will pass Saturn (Nov. 28-29) and then Jupiter (Dec. 1-2). This will happened again, from December 26-29, and from January 23-26. At the end of January, Saturn will be very low near the horizon.
3 - Full Moon
🌕 The Full Moon is perhaps the most spectacular phase since the entire face of the Moon is very bright. The Moon rises in the evening and sets in the morning. You can observe it in the evening, when it is in the east.
On the evening of December 7, the Moon will be very close to the planet Mars which appears as a bright orange star. They will be so close together in the sky that the Moon will pass directly in front of Mars and hide it completely for part of the night! This is called an occultation. The Moon will officially be full later that night, on December 7-8, 2022. The Moon will also be full on the evening of January 6, 2023.
The Full Moon right next to Mars on December 7, 2022.
4 - The planet Mars near Orion, Aldebaran and the Pleiades
The planet Mars is very bright this winter and looks like a bright orange star. You can see it in the eastern sky in the early evening, not far from the bright star Aldebaran. Beneath Mars and Aldebaran is the constellation Orion, one of the easiest constellations to identify with its hourglass shape and its three stars forming its belt. Betelgeuse and Rigel are two bright stars in Orion. We can also see a small cluster of stars in this region: the Pleiades. One way to find them is to follow the stars in Orion's Belt to find Aldebaran, then continue to a small cluster of stars!
5 - The Summer Triangle: the stars Deneb, Vega and Altair
In the west in the early evening, you can see the stars Vega, Deneb, and Altair. These are the three stars that form the Summer Triangle. Deneb is part of the Cygnus constellation which looks like a cross.
6 - Last Quarter Moon
During the Last Quarter Moon, the lit portion of the Moon sort of looks like the letter C 🌗. It rises late at night, around midnight. You can actually still see it in the early morning —look southwest!
7 - A sunset
A day when there are not too many clouds, find the Sun at the end of the day. Did you notice the time? The Sun sets very early in winter! In which direction was it? Record your observations on your sheet!
⚠️ Be careful, never look at the Sun directly, even when it sets, you could damage your eyes!
8 - The constellations Cassiopeia and Ursa Major
The constellation Cassiopeia is one of the first constellations that we usually learn to identify. It's named after a queen in Greek mythology, but in the sky, it looks more like a "W" or an "M". Between November and January, in the early evening, Cassiopeia is close to the zenith, the point directly above our heads. Just below when looking north, and if your horizon is clear, you can spot the famous Big Dipper part of the constellation Ursa Major! Between the two is Polaris, the North Star.
9 - Crescent Moon and Earthshine
A few days after the New Moon, we can see the Crescent Moon🌒. The crescent itself is lit directly by the Sun. If you pay close attention and the conditions are good, you might also notice that the rest of the Moon is also dimly lit. This light, called earthshine, is also from the Sun, but which has been reflected by the Earth onto the Moon!
During the Challenge, the best times to observe the Crescent Moon are November 25-28, December 25-28, and January 23-26, 2023.
10 - Venus near Saturn at the end of January
The planet Venus becomes visible again in the evening sky towards the end of January. It's very easy to spot because it's quite bright, but you have to look west before it gets completely dark. It will be very interesting to see it rise in the sky from evening to evening and to see it pass Saturn around January 22. It will be visible for several months and will pass Jupiter at the beginning of March.
We created a short video to show you the planets and the Moon during the holiday break:
This activity is part of a full teacher's guide, currently in development, called Exoplanets in the classroom. It is a project led by the Institute for Research on Exoplanets at the University of Montréal, in collaboration with Discover the Universe, École en réseau and l’Association pour l’enseignement de la science de la technologie au Québec, and funded by the program NovaScience from the Ministère de l'Économie et de l'Innovation du Québec.