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.

The Geminids-2017

   A few hours after sunset local time, on Wednesday December 13th, look toward the west for ‘shooting stars’, or meteors coming from the area around the constellation the Gemini Twins. These are the annual Geminid Meteor Shower – one of the best meteor showers each year, and at times rivaling the August Perseid Meteor Shower. The calculated peak time for the meteors is December 14th at 7 UT (2 am CST), but this does not mean that is the only time to view them. 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 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

   
   
   
   

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

Orinids Meteor Shower 2017

   The Orionid Meteor shower reaches its peak on the morning of Saturday October 21st. Best viewing is looking toward the east to south part of the sky after midnight and before sunrise. Look for the stars of Orion – most find Orion from the 3 bright stars forming his belt. Look to the left from the belt stars for the bright reddish-orange star Betelgeuse (often pronounced ‘beetle juice’) that represents Orion’s right shoulder. A little further to the left from Betelgeuse is the radiant, the area where the meteors or shooting stars will seem to be radiating outward from.
   All annular meteor showers, like Orionids, and the more well-known August Perseids, are named for the constellation the radiant is located within. Meteor showers are the result of several factors including the reaction between the comet’s dirty, icy surface with the Sun’s radiant energy and the orbital path the Earth and comets follow around the Sun. All comets leave behind clumps or clouds of comet debris, their surface material, as they come closer to the Sun’s heat energy. Some of this comet debris is left along the Earth’s orbital path such that the Earth regularly passes through these debris clouds. As the Earth passes through the debris the small bits of rock enter the Earth’s atmosphere and as they heat from friction and melt they glow briefly appearing as streaks of light. Some meteors leave a bright glowing trail, called a train, for a few moments. The Orionids average around 20 meteors per hour, however this year estimates are that that number may go up to as many as 60 per hour.
   How the number per hour can increase is based on the debris cloud and where the Earth passes through it. The debris is cloud-like in its shape and there are parts of the ‘cloud’ where the particles are more numerous – the thicker parts of the debris cloud. Meteor showers, like the Earth’s orbit are pretty well known so part of the equation for determining the number per hour is based on knowing what part of the debris cloud the Earth will pass through. This year we apparently pass through a thicker part of the debris cloud.
   Hang on to your hat!

   
   
   

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.

Crescent Moon, Venus, and Comet Encke


   Tuesday evening February 28th the 2.5-day young waxing crescent Moon will be about 9o from the inner planet Venus and about the same distance from Comet Encke (2P).
   Mars and Venus as well as three Dwarf Planets are also above the horizon at sunset local time as the graphic is showing.
   
   
   

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.

Mars Moves Into the New Year

   Over the next several days Mars will catch up with and then pass by Neptune coming within less than 0.5o on December 31st. Mars moves at a daily rate of about 0.5o while Neptune moves about 0.006o each day. If you were on Mars observing Neptune you would see Neptune begin its retrograde motion. Interestingly from here on Earth Neptune has just ended its retrograde motion. It’s all relative as somebody probably said.
   Both planets will be above the southwestern at sunset local time with only Mars being visible without the use of an optical aid.
   Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdušáková may be bright enough to be visible with binoculars and certainly with a telescope, and definitely should make for an interesting picture with the waxing crescent Moon nearby.
   
   
   
   

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.

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.

January Meteor Showers – The Quadrantids

   There has been some news noise about viewing the Quadrantid Meteor Shower during the early hours of tomorrow (Monday) morning. But none have mentioned that the Moon also rises at about the same time as the radiant for the meteor shower, and that reflected light from the 24-day old waning crescent Moon will ‘drown’ out many of the dimmer meteors however there should still be several of the brightest of the meteors visible.
   The average hourly rate, ZHR, for this meteor shower ranges from 60 to several hundred so I think there are good odds that some meteors will still be seen despite the interference from moonlight. To maximize the viewing wait until about an hour or so before dawn when the radiant is high above the horizon.
   Even if you do not see any meteors you are at least able to see several of the other planets in the solar system as they are currently arranged along the eclitptic from southeast to southwest at sunrise local time. In dark enough skies with at least binoculars you should be able to catch a glimpse of Comet Catalina (C/2013 US 10). Current estimates have it at somewhere around 5th magnitude.
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?
quadran-muralis

   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. The Meteor Shower was named for the no longer used constellation.

   
   
   
   

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.