2018 Quadrantid Meteor Shower

   The annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower reaches its peak Wednesday morning January 3rd officially at 14:19 UT (9:14 am CST). The Quadrantids are one of the best meteor showers of the year but does not get much attention possibly because it’s winter in the northern hemisphere, and this area of the sky is not easily seen from south of the equator.
   The ZHR (average hourly rate) for this meteor shower ranges from 60 to several hundred. Best time for viewing is before sunrise as your part of the Earth is rotating toward the east sort of putting you headfirst into the meteor shower. To find the radiant for this meteor shower look for the stars of the Big Dipper and then look below the end stars in the handle.
click on graphic to see it larger
   Adding to the thrill of seeing a shooting star are the the planets Jupiter and Mars about 1o apart and closing in on a very close 0.2o separation on the 6th. Look closely and you may see Zubenelgenubi, one of the stars making up Libra the Scales. All three fit comfortably within the field of view of binoculars and contrast nicely in their respective apparent magnitudes (magnitudes shown on graphic).

Boötes the Herdsman

Boötes the Herdsman

   The radiant is the area from where the meteors seem to radiate outward from. Meteor showers owe their name to the constellation region the radiant is located within, and as this graphic shows the radiant is within the boundary of the constellation Boötes the Herdsman. So why the name Quadrantids?
   On some of the older star charts there is a now ‘extinct’ constellation called Quadrans Muralis, the Mural. This was a constellation located between Boötes and Draco the Dragon that was created in 1795 by French Astronomer Jérôme Lalande. It is a picture, or mural, of a Quadrant that had been used to map the stars. The Quadrantids Meteor Shower was named for the no longer used constellation.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Moon – Dwarf Planet Ceres Conjunction

   Friday morning September 15th the waning crescent Moon will be within about 6o from the dwarf planet Ceres. Ceres should be just visible with binoculars with an apparent magnitude of between 7th and 8th. Within the binocular field of view, about 3o above Ceres is 3rd magnitude kappa Geminorum. And about 5o from Ceres is the star Pollux, one of the ‘Twin’ stars in Gemini the Twins.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Asteroid 3 Juno at Opposition

   Sunday July 2nd asteroid 3 Juno will be at opposition, that is, it will be 180o from the Sun with the Earth between the two. At opposition, any Sun orbiting object beyond Earth rises at about local time for sunset and sets at local time for sunrise. At about 9th-10th magnitude the asteroid will be too faint to be seen with binoculars or the naked eye.

   There are, however, a couple brighter objects sort of surrounding 3 Juno including Asteroid Hebe at 4th magnitude, and the outer planet Saturn at nearly 0 magnitude.
   Asteroid 3 Juno was the third asteroid discovered, hence its numerical prefaced name. It was discovered by German astronomer Karl L. Harding in 1804, and it is the 11th largest asteroid.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.

Ceres at Opposition

   Friday October 21st Dwarf Planet Ceres reaches opposition. This places the Earth in between Ceres and the Sun, much like the arrangement of the Sun, Earth, and Moon during full Moon phase. When at opposition an outer planet is visible for most if not all of the night hours as it rises around sunset and then sets around sunrise.


   Ceres, at 7th magnitude, is currently within the boundaries of the constellation Cetus the Sea Monster. Ceres is bright enough to see with binoculars, and is less than 5 o from the long period variable star Mira, or aka “Mira the Wonderful”.

   Learn more about Dwarf Planet Ceres by visiting the NASA Dawn mission web site where we have the Dawn spacecraft orbiting Ceres.
   
   
   
Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place

   Friday evening, April 8th at sunset or shortly thereafter look toward the western horizon for a very thin 1.5-day young waxing crescent Moon. There you will find the Moon between two rocky objects, an asteroid and a planet.
   Down to the right from the Moon is the innermost planet Mercury shining at nearly 1st magnitude. Just up to the left and less than 1o from the Moon is the asteroid 4 Vesta, which by contrast currently has an apparent magnitude of nearly 8.0 making it an object visible in binoculars and telescopes.
   At 4 UT April 9th the Moon will occult, pass in front of Vesta, but this occultation will only be visible from the Philippine Islands, and Hawaii and a few other islands in that part of the Pacific Ocean.

   Read more about Vesta at Wikipedia, or at the NASA Dawn mission web site.

   
   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

NSTA @ Nashville


   I’m in Nashville Tennessee for the next several days at the NSTA national conference. Planets and stars will still be in the skies but not as easy to see from downtown Nashville as it is where I live. On the morning of April 1st the waning waning crescent Moon will be within a few degrees from Dwarf Planet Pluto. Too dim to be seen without a large telescope it is, nonetheless, a neat idea that when you look toward the Moon you are also looking in the direction of Pluto. It’s out there!
   And here is a sequence of graphics showing the pre-sunrise morning sky at 5:30 am EDT for each day during the conference, and one night view on April 1st showing Jupiter. Both Pluto and the Moon are located just above and to the left from the handle of the teapot asterism for Sagittarius the Archer.

   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.

The 2015 Geminids

   After sunset on Sunday December 13th look toward the east or west for ‘shooting stars’, or meteors. Toward the east the short-lived streaks of light are radiating outward from the area of the Gemini Twins constellation. These are the annual Geminids – one of the best meteor showers each year, and at times rivaling the August Perseids. The Geminid Meteor Shower is named for the constellation that the meteors radiate outward from. This is the same for all meteor showers, and the ‘spot’ in the sky is known as the radiant. The Geminid radiant, as shown in the graphic, is just above the ‘twin’ star Castor, and under ideal viewing conditions an average of about 70 meteors per hour could possibly be seen. This year without the interference of moonlight will increase the chances of seeing the meteors.
   Meteor showers result from the Earth’s orbital path intersecting areas of comet debris. Comets, as they orbit the Sun, leave behind pieces of their icy, dirty, selves. If these debris clouds happen to be along the Earth’s orbital path then the Earth will regularly pass through the comet debris cloud. As this happens the small comet pieces hit our outer atmosphere and vaporize from the friction generated heat. We then see these as the shooting stars that make up meteor showers.
   There are, however, two exceptions to this. The January Quadrantid Meteors and the Geminids each come from their own respective asteroid rather than a comet. The source for the Geminids is Asteroid 3200 Phaethon
   Looking toward the south to southwest and adding to viewing the Geminids is an un-named meteor shower with a radiant just below the bottom of the ‘Square of Pegasus’, between the ‘square’ and the ‘Circlet’ pattern of stars forming the head of the Western Fish of Pisces the Fishes. This meteor shower originates from Comet Wirtanen, a short-period comet orbiting the Sun every 5.5 years. The comet was discovered in 1948 and according to some predictions the Earth may pass through this comet’s debris cloud for the first time since the comet’s discovery. This part of the sky is over the south at sunset and as this graphic shows the radiant is over the southwest as the Geminids radiant is over the eastern horizon.
   
   
   
   

Caution: Objects viewed with an optical aid are further than they appear.
Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for more observing information for this month.