In the new year, get ready to turn your eyes to the skies. Between sparkling meteor showers, annual equinox celebrations and one total solar eclipse, 2024 promises to be sensational for stargazers.
You might consider planning a trip to view celestial events at a certified Dark Sky Place, a designation the International Dark Sky Association (IDA) awards to locations unspoiled by light pollution. Yet armchair astronomers can still admire plenty of stars, planets and meteors from their backyards.
So grab a comfy seat – and, if you’re feeling like a modern Galileo, perhaps a telescope – and look up. Here are all the astronomical wonders you won’t want to miss.
January 3–4: the Quadrantids meteor shower peaks
One of the year’s brightest light shows ignites night skies from December 26 to January 16. Expect approximately 120 meteors streaking per hour during its brief peak on January 4.
Skywatchers in the northern hemisphere get the best seats to this spectacle, so head to a dark sky park north of the equator for an exceptionally starry experience.
Winter is also a fantastic time of year to spot the northern lights. If you want to aim for an aurora-Quadrantids combo, consider traveling to remote Nordic destinations famous for aurora chasing, like Svalbard in Norway’s stretch of the Arctic Circle.
March 20: the spring equinox
The spring (or vernal) equinox marks one of two days per year when the sun passes directly over Earth’s equator, resulting in day and night lasting roughly 12 hours each. In the northern hemisphere, it signals longer days and warmer weather to come; in the southern hemisphere, it heralds autumn’s arrival.
Ancient civilizations marked the celestial milestone with planet-aligned architecture, and visiting one of these sites can be a stirring way to celebrate the seasonal shift. For one of the most impressive displays, head to Chichén Itzá, a Maya site on Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. During the equinox, the slithering shadow of a 120ft-long snake appears on El Castillo, a pyramid built around 800 CE. This amazing architectural ritual moment is believed to honor the serpent god Kukulkán, in the hope that he bring a fruitful harvest.
April 8: a total solar eclipse crosses North America
A total solar eclipse occurs when the moon passes between the sun and Earth, blocking the sun’s light. An event like this won’t happen again in the contiguous United States until 2044, making it a must-see phenomenon for astro-tourists.
For the most mesmerizing experience, stay in the “path of totality,” where the moon completely eclipses the sun. According to NASA, the eclipse’s trail will start in the US near San Antonio, Texas. Then, the path will travel northeast from Oklahoma to Maine. Depending on your location and time zone, the event will be visible between 12:30pm and 4:30pm.
If you want to experience the show with fellow stargazing groupies, check out the National Eclipse events page for a comprehensive list of festivals and viewing parties. (If we had to pick one, the Texas Eclipse Festival near Austin promises to be out of this world.)
April 22–23: the peak of the Lyrids meteor shower
The Lyrids isn’t just one of Earth’s most reliable annual meteor showers: it’s also one of the oldest. People started watching these “shooting stars” at least 2700 years ago, with the first recorded sightings dating back to China in 687 BCE.
The event will be active from April 16 to 25. When it peaks between April 22 and 23, it should be possible to see 10 to 20 meteors per hour. The northern hemisphere is best for viewing – with one drawback: the moon will be full, making it harder to see the light show. Pro tip: find a location obstructing the moon to maximize viewing potential.
May 6–7: the Eta Aquarids meteor shower peaks
Debris created by Halley’s Comet will send streaking meteors across Earth’s atmosphere from April 15 to May 27. The event peaks between May 6 and 7, with roughly 10 to 30 meteors visible per hour.
While people worldwide can see the showers, the Eta Aquarids favor the southern hemisphere. To see the most spectacular streaks, consider camping in places like Australia’s Warrumbungle National Park or Brazil’s Desengano State Park — both certified by the IDA for exceptionally starry nights.
June 20: the summer solstice
The northern hemisphere bows toward the sun in late June, creating the longest day and shortest night of the year. This is the summer solstice, observed across nonstop sunny locales like Alaska, where residents of Fairbanks celebrate 24 hours of natural light with a midnight baseball game – a tradition dating back over a century.
For those intrigued by more ancient forms of sun worship, join crowds at England’s Stonehenge, where the famous monoliths align with the yellow dwarf star during the summer and winter solstices. In June, thousands of druids, pagans and other mystics cheer as the sun peeks above the horizon, bathing the 5000-year-old stone circle’s heart in gold rays. The gathering is free and open to the public, though parking fills up quickly; taking public transit is advised.
August 11–13: the Perseids meteor shower peaks
Every August, the Perseids shoot sparkles across the northern hemisphere in one of nature’s greatest fireworks displays. When showers peak, stargazers can expect to see roughly 50 to 100 meteor streaks per hour.
The moon will unfortunately be 50% full in mid-August – though once it sets, skywatchers in lower latitudes will have plenty of pre-dawn hours to enjoy the fireball frenzy.
Observation conditions for the Perseids are otherwise ideal (as long as weather cooperates), with balmy summer temperatures north of the equator. For all-night observation, consider camping at a US national park like California’s Joshua Tree, certified by the IDA and known for cloudless skies. Reserve early on Recreation.gov to secure a campsite.
September 22: the autumnal equinox
Late September marks autumn’s start in the northern hemisphere as the sun passes south over Earth’s equator. Like the vernal equinox, ancient temples including Peru’s Machu Picchu and Cambodia’s Angkor Wat honor the astro-holiday with their sun-centered structures.
Autumn’s temperate weather makes this an ideal time to visit Malta, a Mediterranean island nation that’s home to the Mnajdra, a Neolithic complex built around 3600 BCE. During the spring and autumn equinoxes, the first sunrays to stretch above the horizon shine through Mnajdra’s main entry, flooding the structure’s innermost apse with light. To experience the solar show, visit Heritage Malta’s event page and book guided tour tickets in advance. Space is limited, ensuring all visitors (who plan in advance) get a good view.
October 2: a “ring of fire” solar eclipse crosses South America
Fall into a burning ring of fire by seeing this year’s annular solar eclipse as it crosses remote swaths of Argentina, Chile and mystical Easter Island. During this eclipse, the moon passes between the Earth and the sun, creating a sun-flamed frame around the moon.
Reaching most of the areas crossed by October’s annular eclipse can be expensive and time-consuming; you’ll need to hire tour operators to reach glacier-gouged parks in Chile like Laguna San Rafael and Bernardo O’Higgins. But if you’re willing to settle for a partial eclipse, where the moon covers a part of the sun to create a crescent shape, head to Hawaii’s scorching beaches instead.
October 21–22: the peak of the Orionids meteor shower
In late October, more icy debris shed by Halley’s comet enters Earth’s atmosphere, producing a medium-strength meteor shower that’s visible worldwide. The display peaks around October 21 and 22, with an expected 10 to 20 streaks per hour. A waning gibbous moon (after a full moon when it’s still more than half lit) might cause interference, so try your best to find a dark area with little light pollution to spot the fiery flares.
November 16–17: the Leonids meteor shower peaks
While this annual meteor shower isn’t usually a showstopper, with viewers liable to see roughly 15 streaks per hour at its peak, the event is worth keeping an eye on. Every 33 years or so, the Leonids produce a meteor storm that wows watchers with some 1000 fireballs per hour. The last meteor storm occurred in 2001 – so while we aren’t due for another, sky-gazers can look toward the heavens and hope.
December 13–14: the Geminids meteor shower peaks
Although a waxing gibbous moon glows bright during this annual meteor shower’s apex, a little patience could reap big rewards. If skies are clear, there’s a chance to see roughly 120 meteors per hour. Most meteors tend to appear around the constellation Gemini, which favors the northern hemisphere in December – though southern hemisphere stargazers can also spot the celestial magic.
December 21: the winter solstice
The year’s shortest day and longest night mark the beginning of winter in the northern hemisphere. Cultures worldwide greet darkness with light displays, like India’s bonfire-fueled Lohri celebration (observed in January) and Scandinavia’s candle-led processionals honoring St Lucia’s Day (also called the Festival of Lights).
In County Meath, Ireland, an ancient site was designed just for the annual event: neolithic engineers constructed Newgrange, a circular tomb predating Egypt’s pyramids, to align exactly with the winter solstice sunrise. For 17 minutes between December 18 and 23, dawn’s light enters a small opening in the tomb and illuminates its innermost chamber.
Space inside Newgrange is limited, and a lottery system grants access to only 60 people annually. This year’s winners have already been announced, but you can always apply for a coveted 2025 spot through Brú na Bóinne Visitor Centre’s lottery.