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.
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.
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.
The weekend of July 17 will be a great time to check out the night sky.
The NEOWISE Comet (C/2020 F3) can be seen zooming across northern United States and Canada after sunset. Watch for it now because it won’t be back for thousands of years. Tip: Look for the Big Dipper. Start with binoculars to first see the comet below the Big Dipper but then try unaided.
But also try to spot the planets. The schedule of when they first appear this weekend goes from late night July 17 through early July 18. Being able to see all seven planets over two days is a rare occurrence.
Don’t bother calling NASA or the local police if you see a fireball during pre-dawn hours this weekend through Monday.
The Perseid meteors are already zooming across the sky but they peak after midnight from August 12 to 13.
This year, 2018, the meteors should be easily seen because the moon is in its new phase Aug. 11, and only a mere waxing crescent Aug. 12 and 13 (Sunday-Monday) which means its illumination is too low to interfere with shining meteors streaking overhead.
However, to best spot them, seek out areas away from street and commercial lights, oh, and be patient. There should be 60 to 70 meteors flying overhead per hour.
The Perseids are pieces from the Comet Swift-Tuttle that we can view when the earth passes through its path. Although it does so mid-summer from July 17 to Aug. 24, the densest pass-through is Aug. 12.
As to fireballs, NASA experts say the Perseids have more than other big meteor showers. For more NASA meteor information visit NASA Perseids.
The next time a total solar eclipse crosses the United States isn’t that far off. It’s April 8, 2024
If you didn’t have a chance to experience totality on Aug. 21, 2017 you might want to plan where you want to see it next time. Even if you don’t go you might know someone who will. So save those eclipse glasses if lucky enough to have a pair.
Carbondale, IL will again be dead center when the eclipse path crosses the United States. But the path of the 2024 total solar eclipse will cut the opposite direction. It will go from Mexico in the southwest to Maine in the northeast as it moves across Texas, Arkansas, Indiana, Ohio, New York and Vermont.
Consider then, taking a spring vacation in Austin or Dallas Texas, Indianapolis, Toledo or Cleveland, Ohio or the Buffalo, Niagara Falls area or even Montreal. Chicago won’t be in the direct total solar eclipse path until Sept. 14, 2099.
To go now to walk across the map visit Adler Planetarium’s “Chasing Eclipses” exhibit. It has a terrific floor map of the total solar eclipse path for 2017, 2024 and 2099.
The Adler also has a total solar eclipse experience at one end of the exhibit complete with cooler air, expected sounds and a good visual eclipse.
Why experience totality
The following quote from Adler Astronomer Larry Ciupik, the Doane Observatory director, describes what he saw in Capo San Lucas, Mexico July 1991.
“It didn’t matter how much I knew about it or prepared for it, my first total solar eclipse was unexpected and unlike anything I’ve ever seen!” Ciupik said on an Adler web site.
He went on to explain. “In the last few seconds before totality, the sky darkened to a deep blue, then purple, and faint wavering lines appeared—shadow bands—whisking across the sand of our beachside site. Suddenly, the Sun itself dramatically changed. I took off my special solar viewing filter and saw what looked like a hole in the sky surrounded by a pearlescent glow. The Sun’s outer atmosphere, the corona, resembled outstretched wings several times wider than the hole on each side.”
Also, totality will last longer on its path. It will range from three minutes plus seconds to four minutes plus seconds over most of the United States in April 2024 instead of the two minutes plus seconds it did in August 2017. For the 2024 path click here and at Time and Date.
To figure the time of the eclipse in the city you want to visit check its latitude and longitude then go to NASA Path.
The information is thanks to NASA and Fred Espenak. The numbers are in Universal Time so for central daylight time subtract 5 hours and eastern daylight time subtract 4 hours.
“Chasing Eclipses”is up now through through Jan. 8, 2018. The Adler Planetarium is on the Museum campus at 1300 South Lake Shore Drive Chicago, IL 60605. For ticket and other information visit Adler Planetarium and call (312) 922-7827.
Zoos and aquariums are celebrating World Penguin Day today, April 25, 2017. The date was picked because that is when Antarctic penguins annually start migrating north.
In Chicago, the Shedd Aquarium is celebrating with a wonderful series of videos showing penguins making a nest at the aquarium, a new-born penguin being fed and a Shedd program that rescues African penguins in trouble.
Click Shedd to watch the videos. And visit the Shedd, 1200 S. Lake Shore Drive, to watch penguins play.
The Lincoln Park Zoo in Chicago is also is a good place to watch penguins. Go to LPZoo for more information.
A good online site to learn about penguins and find excellent photos is EarthSky. A not for profit site, EarthSky is a good place for space information and our planet’s news.
On the west coast, the San Diego Zoo is celebrating World Penguin Day with special penguin themed activities. Go to SDZ to see the events.