Meteor shower and more

 

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Look up to take your mind off 2020 politics and pandemic that still plague us on earth. The sky is endlessly interesting with bright planets such as Venus in the early morning eastern sky and Saturn and Jupiter still a cozy couple in the early twilit southwestern sky.

Now, add to the mix the Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that has been known to send out from 50 to 100 fireballs an hour. Associated with asteroid 2003 EH1, the Quadrantids were named for the defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis.

The good news in 2021 is that the Quadrantids peak early morning before sunrise Jan. 3. Because sunrise at this time of year in the northern hemisphere is shortly after 7 a.m., the Quadrantids peak time of around 6 a.m. means you don’t have to get up in the middle of the night to catch them.

Best plan is to let your eyes acclimate to the darkish sky and look northeast where their radiant (place of origin) will be ascending.

The bad news in 2021 is that the full moon ending 2020 on Dec. 29 (into early morning Dec. 30) is only in its waning gibbous phase. That means the bright, nearly full orb of 81 % illumination, still high in the sky, can outshine the meteor lights.

If you miss the Quadrantids, mark the calendar for the Lyrids meteor shower that peaks April 21-22.

BTW – next three full moons are the Wolf Moon/Old Moon, Moon After Yule on Jan. 28; the Snow Moon/Hunger Moon on Feb. 27 and the Crow Moon/ Lenten Moon/Worm Moon on March 28.

For more meteor shower info visit TimeandDate, Space and EarthSky.

 

 

 

 

 

Jupiter and Saturn and meteors oh my

Graphic made from a simulation program, showing a view of the 2020 great conjunction through the naked eye just after sunset (NASA photo)
Graphic made from a simulation program, showing a view of the 2020 great conjunction through the naked eye just after sunset.  (NASA photo)

We, in the Northern Hemisphere, may hate that nights leading up to the Winter Solstice Dec. 21, 2020 have gotten longer. But this year the darkness is a bonus.

Because, shortly after the sun sets, Monday, Dec. 21, sky watchers should be able to see two of our planets, Jupiter and Saturn, closer to each other’s orbits then they will be for years.

In addition, staying darker longer also means being able to watch the Ursid Meteor shower which peaks Dec. 21 and what’s left of the Geminids early Monday (or Tuesday) morning.

(BTW, even though the Winter Solstice has the shortest amount of daylight, the earliest sunset already occurred and the latest sunrise is still a few days off. See what your sunrise and set times are.

Prime time to see the two planets at their closest is 4:15 p.m. CST Monday, low in the southwest. But you can see them fairly close to each other through December.

What regular sky watchers know is that the two planets do pass near each other every 20 years as they last did in 2000. The difference this year is that their orbits bring them 10 times closer than in 2000.

Indeed, they will be closer than they have been seen at night than in 800 years and closer during the day in 400 years. Seen together as a “great conjunction,” they may resemble one large  or elongated planet or star.

As for the meteors, the Ursids which shoot across the sky seemingly radiating from Ursa Minor about 10 meteors per hour, aren’t as plentiful as the Geminids. However, both can be seen Dec. 20-22. The Ursid comet parent is 8P/Tuttle.

 

 

Best meteor shower this year

 

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Look up early, early morning after midnight, Sunday, Dec. 13 or Monday, Dec. 14, 2020. The Geminids will be flying across the sky.

Considered the best meteor shower of the year, the Geminids turn out about 120 meteors per hour.

Fortunately the moon, now in its new phase, won’t be a factor. But weather, at least in the Chicago area, is.

However, the Geminids whose radiant is the bright Castor star in the constellation Gemini (The Twins), can be seen in both hemispheres. Its parent is 3200 Phaethon.

Best viewing is away from street and commercial lights so consider bringing a friend to keep you company.

For more information visit NASA Solar System Exploration, TimeandDate, and EarthSky.

 

 

 

Comet Halley meteor shower

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Debris from Comet Halley appears twice during the year. Back in May we had the Eta Aquarids. Now, in October, are the Orionids.

In 2020, this meteor shower peaks shortly before dawn Oct. 21. But you can check the sky again in the early hours before dawn of the following morning.

The moon, in its waxing crescent phase, will have already set so won’t be a light problem..

Look for Orion the Hunter’s Club for the showers’ radiant point.

For more information visit EarthSky/Orionids.

Also check out October Meteor Showers.

 

October meteor showers

 

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

The Harvest Moon that appeared Oct. 1-2 pulled out cell phones to snap its full golden beauty. But there’s more to come in October for the casual sky watcher.

The Draconids, a meteor shower that may be spotted zooming overhead in the Northern Hemisphere Oct. 6-10, peaks Oct. 7-8.

The good news is watchers don’t have to wait until midnight and later because this meteor shower typically is seen in early evening. Plus, the moonlight won’t be a factor because the earth’s “nightlight” is in its gibbous waning phase and won’t be rising until later in the evening.

The sort of bad news is that the Draconids, at about five meteors per hour, are seldom prolific. Watchers may see just a few or get lucky as people in Europe did in 2018 and catch this meteor shower in one of its boom years.

The Draconids are called that because they seem to emanate from Draco the Dragon constellation above the Little Dipper. Look for them in the northwestern sky. The parent comet is 21P/Giacobini-Zinner.

But as, tv ads say, wait. A slightly more prolific meteor shower is coming soon and can be seen in both hemispheres.

The Orionids that tend to have 10 to 20 meteors per hour, will be peaking Oct. 20-22 just before dawn after a crescent moon sets. So the sky should be dark enough to see the meteors.  However, the Orionids also can be blazingly bright so even in an unfavorable moonlit sky they can be seen.

Look to the club of the Orion the Hunter constellation that gives these meteors their name. The parent comet is IP/Halley making the Orionids the comet’s second meteor shower in a year. The first was the Eta Aquarids that came in May.

For more meteor information visit EarthSky, MeteorGuide, NASA /asteroidscometsmeteors and Space.

 

Early to rise catches the Perseids

 

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Check the weather predictions in your area for Aug. 11-13. That is when the Perseids are supposed to be peaking with bright meteors shooting across the sky at 50 to 100 an hour.

Best time say the experts, is in the northern hemisphere right before dawn, so also check  the sunrise times for your area.

Because these meteors are bright, plentiful and have long tails, the largish waning crescent moon might not be much of a hindrance the night of Aug. 11. By Aug 13 the moon will be thinner though there may be fewer meteors.to spot.

So where do they come from?

The Perseids are debris from the 109P/Swift-Tuttle comet. They are called Perseids because they look like they emanate (their radiant) from the Perseus constellation as the Earth moves through their trail each summer.

The comet’s name comes from Lewis Swift and Horace Tuttle who discovered it in 1862.

For more Perseid meteor shower information visit Time and Date, NASA and EarthSky.

 

Related: Falling Star Alerts

 

Falling star alerts

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Sky watchers have two meteor showers to spot the rest of July and much of August: the Delta Aquariids and the Perseids.

Although the Aquariids, a sparse shower of about 20 meteors per hour, are best seen in the Southern Hemisphere they can be spotted as far north as the mid-northern latitudes. Just watch for them after the moon sets around midnight this weekend until just before dawn, July 27-28. However, the moon, which is in its first quarter isn’t much of a factor.

The comet of origin is suspected to be 96P Machholz. Named for where they seem to come from, the radiant is the Aquarius Constellation in the southern sky.

Because the Aquariids continue through late August, you may see them when you watch for the Perseids that peak Aug. 11-13.

You will know which is which because the Perseids, a strong shower of up to 150 meteors per hour during its peak, come from the northern part of the sky where you find the Perseus Constellation. The comet of origin is 109P Swift-Tuttle.

If watching for the Aquariids this weekend, you may also see the Perseids because they are very bright and already started about July 17. However, they don’t peak until about the second week of August when the moon will also be bright.

For more meteor shower information visit NASA, Time and Date and Earth Sky.

 

 

Catch the Lyrids streaking across the sky

 

Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet's orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)
Meteor showers happen when Earth is in a comet’s orbital path and comet debris fly across the sky. (NASA photo)

Instead of merely staying inside late tonight or tomorrow night (actually very early Tuesday or Wednesday morning), find a spot outside your abode to catch the Lyrid meteor shower while it peaks April 21-22, 2020.

Meteor enthusiasts have been watching the Lyrids for centuries. Among the oldest recorded meteor shower, it was supposedly first noticed 2,900 years ago.

The timing this year is perfect because the moon won’t be interfering as it is in its new phase April 20 and will be just a thin crescent April 22.

Most sky watching sites suggest dressing warm and lying down in or on a sleeping bag with feet pointing east, then looking up and letting the eyes adjust to the night sky. This year, experts predict between 10 to 20 meteors per hour during the peak.

What may help is that the Lyrids are bright and have a long tail of dust. But they are also fast at 30 miles per second.

The shower is called the Lyrids because the meteors appear to radiate from  the Lyra the Harp constellation near the bright Vega star.

What you are seeing is debris  that has crossed the earth’s orbit from the Thatcher comet. The comet, itself, take about 415 years to orbit around the Sun so earthling won’t be able to see that comet again until 2276.

To learn more about the Lyrids and meteors visit NASA, TimeandDate, EarthSky and Space.

 

Quadrantid meteor shower here then gone

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

If you are north in the northern hemisphere and don’t have a cloudy or rainy night, look up after midnight after the waxing gibbous moon sets to catch the Quadrantid Meteor Shower.

The Quadrantids typically send out 25 meteorites an hour during its peak time which in 2020 is very early in the a.m. Jan. 4 and go on for a very short duration. For Central Time watchers best viewing after the moon sets would be about 2 a.m.

Where to look

Look northeast. Find the Big Dipper then look down to Arcturus, a giant red star at the bottom of the Bootes Constellation. Scientists say it is best to then look just slightly away from it to catch the long tails of the Quadrantids.

What are the Quadrantids

They are considered to come from the asteroid 2003 EHI which may have been a comet or a part of one.

Where to find more meteor shower information

The American Meteor Society, around for more than a century, has an easy to understand web site that tells what meteor showers are happening now and in the near future and what the moon phase will be for each of them.

Yes, the moon phase matters. The brightness of a full or nearly full moon makes it harder to see tmeteors flying across the sky.

The American Meteor Society, around for more than a century, has an easy to understand web site, tells when the next meteor shower is coming and what the moon phase will be then. Yes the moon does matter. The brightness of a full and even half moon, make it harder to see meteors flying across the sky.

Other good sky info can be found at Space, Time and Date, NASA and EarthSky.

 

 

 

 

 

 

The Geminids meteor shower is here

Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA
Meteor Shower photo courtesy of NASA

Stay up and look up for the late, late light show . It’s the Geminid meteor shower happening now. So think about where you can go to watch without interference from stores and street lights.

The annual spectacular night show (120 meteors per hour) peaks about 2 a.m. so that really means staying up very late, tonight, Dec. 12 into very, very early tomorrow morning or very late Friday Dec. 13 into very, very early Saturday a.m.

The problem this year, 2019, is the full moon. We’re always talking about finding a spot away from city and street lights. But have no suggestion for dimming down moon light.

However, maybe you will get lucky and a cloud will move across the moon. Or turn your back on the moon and watch the sky away from that bright orb. Or try again very late Saturday night, early, early Sunday morning when the moon might still be bright but not quite as full.

Or turn Geminid watching into a party because the more people “star” gazing, the more likely someone will see a meteor.

BTW, the Geminids are not like the other meteor showers in that the meteorites zooming across the sky are not debris from a comet. They are coming from an ancient asteroid called the 3200 Phaethon. Although sometimes it’s called a “rock comet.”

As to the 2 a.m. watching time, the hour is when the constellation Gemini (The Twins), which is the area or radiant point from where the meteors seem to come, has moved high in the sky. It will seem as if the Geminids are coming from Castor, a bright star in the constellation.

There are several good sky watching resources. To learn more about meteors and the Geminids visit NASA, Space, Time and Date and EarthSky. Also see YouTube.

Jodie Jacobs