Among other celestial delights, the upcoming year may be best remembered for a planetary disappearing act and a Martian close-up. Here's a rundown of these and more of the skywatching events worth circling on your calendar in 2016. (Full story:
  1. Total Solar Eclipse, March 8
    The sun undergoes the most amazing celestial disappearing act this year—a total eclipse—when the moon slides in front of it. Complete cover, or totality, lasts for four minutes and will be visible along a narrow path that includes southeast Asia, from Indonesia to the western Pacific Ocean. A partial eclipse—where only a bite out of the sun is visible—will be seen over a much wider area, including most of Asia, Oceania, and Australia.
  2. Eta Aquarid Meteor Shower, May 6
    The sand-grain-sized debris from the famed Halley’s Comet will be raining down on Earth’s atmosphere on the night of May 6 into the pre-dawn hours of May 7. And this year the peak activity coincides with the time we have a new moon, so the skies should be dark enough for skywatchers to catch even the faintest meteors.
  3. Transit of Mercury, May 9
    The tiny black silhouette of the planet will take about seven hours to make its trek across the solar disk, from 11:12 GMT to 18:42 GMT. The innermost planet will pass between Earth and the sun and will eclipse only 1/150th of the solar disk. Safe viewing of the event will require magnification using a solar-filter-equipped telescope.
  4. Celestial Line-up, August 23
    Cd08d671 e6d5 4cb4 97e3 e32028ee950b
    After nightfall on August 23 and 24, an eye-catching alignment plays out between two of the brightest planets visible to the naked eyes, Mars and Saturn, along with Antares, the lead star of the Scorpius constellation. Particularly attractive will be the competing orange-red hues of Mars and its rival Antares. The cosmic trio will form a dramatic vertical line low in the southwest evening sky that should easily fit within a binoculars' field of view. (Illustration by Andrew Fazekas, Skysafari)
  5. Venus Meets Jupiter, August 27
    02decb02 9bd5 40dc ba44 a118da7c4e0a
    Two of the brightest celestial objects after the sun and moon will have a super-close encounter at dusk on August 27. Neighboring planets Venus and Jupiter will have a spectacularly close conjunction at dusk, very low in the western sky. Since this conjunction event will be taking place so low to the horizon, the planets will be battling the glare of the twilight. Binoculars will make viewing more enjoyable. (Illustration by Andrew Fazekas, Skysafari)
  6. Mars and Lagoon, September 28
    2cc43c4e 0ae1 4be5 b9e1 13b37bca346c
    While Mars will be at its biggest and brightest in Earth’s skies around late May and early June, in late September it will pose pretty with one of the most famous interstellar clouds of gas and dust. Once darkness sets on September 28, the red planet will make a convenient marker for training backyard telescopes on the 4,000 light-year-distant Lagoon Nebula. (Illustration by Andrew Fazekas, Skysafari)