Heads UP! for January 2020

Meteor Shower or a Shower in the Rain?

Early Saturday morning January 4th is the bone-chilling Quadrantids meteor shower.  These pieces of asteroid 2003 EH can produce a meteor a minute at their peak.  The bad news is the peak doesn’t last very long.  The good news is a short peak means less time in the cold.  The good news for meteor watchers is the peak occurs at 3:20am, peak meteor shower time of day, and without a bright Moon to get in the way. An investment of couple of hours in the bleak mid-winter will give you a wealth of tiny streaks in the sky. I like being in a sleeping bag on a lay-out lawn chair with my house blocking bright lights.  However, the extended outlook calls for cloudy and rain early Saturday.

In any case, 2003 EH is a chunk of rock, an asteroid, not a comet, so it’s an unlikely source for a meteor shower.  Maybe the pieces are left over from a really bad breakup that 2003 EH hasn’t gotten over yet.

Plan Now for a Great Planetary Conjunction in December

Will you be able to see the conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, low in the southwestern sky next December?  They will be closer together than the width of our Moon.  To see if you have a good horizon for viewing this event, go out in early January and look for super-bright Venus, low in the southwest.  The December Jupiter/Saturn conjunction will be a bit lower and to the right of where Venus is now.  Keep looking until you find a good location where you can clearly pick out Venus.  Then write it on a calendar for December 21st.  More details in another blog article.

Loneliness in the Morning Sky

Mars starts the month alone, of all the planets, in the morning sky.  At magnitude +1.5, it’s a pale pinkish dot low in the southeast, just above the claws of the Scorpion.  Compare color and brightness with “anti-Mars” Antares five degrees below Mars at mid-month. By then, Jupiter pops up to keep Mars company in the morning sky, low to the left.  Saturn follows at the end of the month, even farther to the lower left.

Check SOHO

Now, Jupiter and Mercury are passing through the Solar Heliospherical Observatory C3 camera (see SOHO blog entry).  Saturn and Mercury make their closest approach to each other, also seen in the C3 field, on the 11th.  No sunspots for us white-light solar observers as we are in an extended solar minimum in the 11-year cycle of solar activity. 

Evening Wanderers

Venus outshines all the other bright points in the evening sky.  Otherwise, Uranus would lay claim to the brightest of the ‘wanderers’ in our evening sky.  Neptune precedes Uranus to the western horizon. We have another chance to watch Venus sliding underneath the crescent Moon on the 27th, in case you missed the closer pass that made a cosmic semicolon in December.  Bonus observation with a telescope that evening – when magnitude +7.9 Neptune hides less than a Moon-width to the lower right of magnitude -4.0 Venus.  

Mercury strays into the evening sky late in January, hugging the horizon to the left of the setting Sun as it moves toward maximum elongation in early February.

Got an Overhead Skylight?

Have an overhead skylight and want a romantic weeknight at home?  Do some indoor stargazing.  Turn out the lights and frame the sublime Seven Sisters overhead in the window – the Pleiades are closest to overhead about 9pm local time in early January, 7pm by the end of the month.

The International Space Station

Overfights are visible in the morning sky through the 12th and in the evenings starting on the 18th.

Our Moment in the Sun

We have our close-up moment with the Sun on the 5th, only 1.7 percent closer than the astronomical unit, our average distance from the Sun.  The Parker Solar Probe comes to its perihelion, 12 percent of one astronomical unit, on the 29th.     

The Moon has a faint penumbral eclipse at full Moon on the evening of the 10th. It happens before Moonrise here. Some folks in northeastern Maine and points north and east might notice it.  

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