Heads UP! for the New Year

Happy (completely arbitrary start date) to the New Year!

I love calendars! But I’ve never really understood the evolution of the start date for the ‘New Year’.  January, from the god Janus who looks forward and backwards, seems like a likely month to start the new year.  But January was named when March was the beginning of the year (if I remember correctly). So, I’ve given up (for now) trying to figure this out.

Anyway, back to looking up….

January is time for holiday ‘leftovers’: a fuzzy comet from late last year, more brilliant planetary encounters, another occultation by the Moon, some meteors (which themselves are leftovers from a larger object!)……

On the morning of the first of of the year, Comet Catalina C/2013 US10, known as ‘Catalina’ to its friends, arcs past Arcturus on its way into the polar sky, getting higher above the horizon, but fading all the way. Catalina has two tails, visible in long exposures photos – one gas tail pointing outward from the Sun and a dust tail trailing the comet’s head. Use a finder chart and binoculars or telescope now and as this tiny fuzzy spot passes alongside the handle of the Big Dipper at mid-month.

After midnight on the 4th, if you like to be up and out after midnight, the Quadrantid meteors may put on a good show. This meteor shower doesn’t last long – peaking for only a few hours. At peak hours, there can be more than a meteor a minute. Sky and Telescope is calling it one of the two best meteor shows this year. But they also say the strongest stream should in the early morning of the 4th, unless it happens the night before over Europe! If you try to see this show, the rising crescent Moon won’t be much of a bother. Just keep it out of your line of sight and you’ll be fine (if the sky is clear).

Mercury tries to give us one bright planet in the evening sky, hanging low in the west-southwest through the 9th – no optical aid needed.

Flashy Venus welcomes exquisitely sublime Saturn to the morning sky. They have a close embrace on the morning of the 9th, when the two will fit nicely in a telescope’s view – not that you need a telescope to see how much brighter Venus is than Saturn. Once again, Saturn won’t offer a ring to Venus and they will go their separate ways. Saturn climbs up in the morning sky as Venus slides lower each week. Mars is already in the morning sky, much dimmer than Venus or Saturn, but easily seen without optical aid. Mars is still very small in a telescope, but that will change when the Earth pulls up across from Mars when Mars is opposite from the Sun in late May.

Getting up for these morning sky gymnastics is not so hard since it’s still dark very late in the morning, with the latest dawn occurring on the 8th.

Jupiter is highest during the post-midnight hours. In a telescope, it’s nearly as large as it gets, so it’s well worth any viewing you can manage any time it’s up.

More later this month about Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the Bull, being occulted by a mostly full Moon on the evening of Tuesday the 19th.

Orion and the many sights of the winter sky around it are highest in the sky between 9 and 10pm in January.

Earth is a tiny bit closer to the Sun at this time of year, closest on the 2nd.

The International Space Station soars overhead in the pre-sunrise sky through the 24th.

Tired of warmth? Now for many kinds of weather, each completly different!

The chill in the air today seemed more normal.  But today’s temperatures in the 40s were still ten degrees above normal.

Sunday’s weather will remind us of summer again, but Tuesday morning we’ll have to be ready for frozen precipitation before the morning rush.

First the hot news… from the National Weather Service forecast discussion about the possibility of a new round of record setting temperatures on Sunday…

ANOMALOUSLY WARM AIR WILL ADVECT INTO THE REGION UNDER A INCREASING SW WIND. THIS ALONE WILL HELP DRIVE TEMPERATURES TO NEW HIGH TEMPERATURE RECORDS FOR 27 DECEMBER. SEE CLIMATE SECTION BELOW FOR CURRENT RECORDS FOR THIS DATE. WITH THE SW FLOW OFF THE RELATIVELY COOLER OCEAN…TEMPERATURES NEAR THE COAST WILL STRUGGLE TO RISE MUCH ABOVE THE LOWER 60S. NEAR THE NYC/NJ METRO…READINGS SHOULD APPROACH 70 DEGREES. INLAND LOCATIONS SHOULD REACH THE LOWER AND MIDDLE 60S. IF THERE ARE MORE BREAKS IN THE CLOUDS…READINGS COULD BE EVEN WARMER. IT SHOULD BE NOTED THAT THE 12Z MAV GUIDANCE FORECAST THIS WARMER SCENARIO WITH TEMPERATURES AT EWR REACHING 75 DEGREES. DID NOT GO THIS HIGH DUE TO THE EXPECTED CLOUD COVER…BUT IT IS NOT OUT OF THE QUESTION TO SEE TEMPERATURES WARMER THAN CURRENTLY FORECAST.

Then a real Canadian high pressure system will push into our area on Monday with the first day of the month at Central Park with below normal temperatures.  The cold air hangs on long enough to have some snow and other frozen precipitation Tuesday morning.

WITH THIS IN MIND…FOR INLAND SECTIONS HAVE FORECAST MAINLY SNOW/SLEET AT THE ONSET MON NIGHT…CHANGING TO FREEZING RAIN/SLEET WELL NORTH/WEST OF NYC…AND THEN RAIN BY LATE MORNING OR MIDDAY ON MON. AREAS CLOSER TO THE COAST SHOULD SEE MORE IN THE WAY OF RAIN…BUT BEGINNING AS A PERIOD OF MIXED PRECIPITATION. MOST LIKELY SCENARIO IS FOR ABOUT AN INCH OF SNOW/SLEET ACCUMULATION WELL INLAND…TO A COATING OF ACCUMULATION FOR AREAS JUST NORTH/WEST OF NYC AND ALONG THE CT COAST…TO NO ACCUMULATION FOR NYC/LONG ISLAND. AREAS WELL INLAND MAY ALSO SEE UP TO A TENTH OF AN INCH ICE ACCUMULATION…MOSTLY ALONG THE I-84 CORRIDOR AND ALSO IN NORTHERN REACHES OF NEW LONDON COUNTY CT.

Well north of NYC may see an inch of icy stuff, which may wash away before the morning rush, so check for updates on Monday on the timing of the slippery stuff.

Then we get a brief period of fair weather on Wednesday, followed by more wet weather later Wednesday into New Years’ Eve.  Drier and colder New Years’ Day. Maybe then we’ll have some better weather for astronomy!

Weather for Christmas

The only outside the box experience at this time of year should be when people unwrap presents!

But this Christmas is forecast to have temperatures and moisture in the eastern United States that is truly outside the box.  The amount of moisture above today us is five standard deviations above normal.  I know that three standard deviations includes 99.7 percent of all the data points – put another way, with 31 days in December a three standard deviation data point is one day in ten years of Decembers.  (Someone better at statistics can do the math for FIVE standard deviations.)

The forecast for Christmas Eve is temperatures in the upper 60s and low 70s.  I’ve experienced temperatures in the 60s at Christmas a couple of times in my life.  I don’t think they happened with CLOUDY skies!  So this is truly outside the box. The forecast temperatures for the NYC area for Thursday would be the highest temperature for December 24th by 6 to 10 degrees!

MaxT2_northeast

If the extended forecast for the rest of December is close to accurate, Central Park will exceed the all-time warmest average temperature for December by EIGHT degrees.  I don’t usually like repeating stories about  ‘if we get x temperature for y days, we have [an incredible record set]’, but this time it looks for real.  For more, follow the links, below.

From weatherunderground and About forecast temperatures and forecast monthly average

Caveats:  With all the clouds, the temperature forecast for Christmas Eve is tricky.  But if this was summer with high sun and good mixing, with temperatures a mile above us at 16 degrees Celsius as forecast for Thursday, our high temperature would be in the upper 80’s.

The forecast for the weekend is uncertain as to the timing of events, including possible rain showers, so check the forecast a few times a day for updates from the National Weather Service or your favorite private weather provider.

Merry   warm and humid :(  Christmas!

Moon and Venus together…

Photos taken this morning… before dawn through high clouds (so no view of the comet, unless it’s somewhere in the haze – I’m still looking).

IMG_0669

Then, I found Venus and the Moon in the midday sky.  The moved next to that building (but moved behind it before the Moon moved in front of Venus – drat!!)  IMG_0732 crop blue

I deepened the blue to bring out the Moon with Venus to the upper left.  You may have to click on it see it better at full size.

Heads UP! for November 2015

We still get to watch the dance of the planets in the morning sky. Jupiter and Venus slowly parting ways. We knew it wouldn’t last.  She’s just too hot and he’s, well, gassy.  But they make a wonderful sight anytime before sunrise. This month, you have to look an hour earlier, since Daylight Time ended on the 1st. Venus passed much fainter Mars on the 3rd, so by mid-month, Mars is in the middle, between Venus and Jupiter, looking indecisive. The Moon joins the dance on the 6th and the 7th, making another great photo op for cameras of any kind (see previous entries for examples of photos taken with a Canon XS and those taken with a Samsung Galaxy S3!).  Just above them, the constellation Leo, led by first magnitude star Regulus, leaps into the morning sky, leaving our planets behind.

nov am
Jupiter, Mars and Venus at mid-month, with Leo leaping above them in the dawn sky.

The ISS joins the planets, passing nearby on the 6th about 5:36am and on the 7th about 4:45am. Compare how bright they are!

PassSkyChart2.ashx

Morning sky on Nov. 6th

PassSkyChart3.ashx

Morning sky on Nov. 7th.

From heavens-above.com – click to make them full size, click on ‘back’ to return to this page.

Mercury drops out of the dawn sky to hang out with the Sun, gliding into the view of SOHO’s LASCO C3 camera by mid-month.  Watch for it at http://sohowww.nascom.nasa.gov/data/realtime-images.html. Saturn joins Mercury in the C3 scene on the 21st. Look there to watch Mercury’s superior conjunction on the 17th and Saturn’s conjunction with the Sun on the 30th.

c3 nov
What the SOHO C3 scene might look like with Saturn, Mercury and the Sun Nov. 24th

nov aldeb

Moon just about to cover Aldebaran 545am Nov 26.  Plots from Cartes du Ciel software.
The Moon makes another nice play Thanksgiving morning; a full Moon running in front of first magnitude Aldebaran in twilight just after 5:45am, popping out from behind the Moon just after 6:30. Aldebaran will be hard to find in the glare of the full Moon.  A telescope is needed to show the tiny red spark against the edge of the blazingly bright lunar limb.

In the evening sky, we’ll get to see how long and how low we can still see Saturn and its rings in our telescopes.  On the 12th Saturn is very low in the twilight, next to the very thin Moon, setting only an hour after the Sun sets.

It’s another good month for finding Uranus and Neptune with your telescope and good finder charts. Get your planisphere* out and track the Summer Triangle is sailing off into the west, while the Andromeda Galaxy soars to the zenith. Orion throws his legs sideways up over the eastern horizon later in the evening, dragging the winter constellations along with him.

*Don’t have a planisphere?  Get one! It’s a chart with a dial to set the date and time and it shows you what stars are up at that time.  No batteries needed!  Try your local book store or your favorite on-line seller of everything.

On the 15th, Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) reaches 82 million miles from the Sun – the closest it will get to the Sun. Normally we would little note nor care much about this, but this is US10’s first trip into the inner solar system. ‘New’ comets are often more active as sunlight warms the long-frozen ices. It might be visible in binoculars in December, arcing north toward Arcturus in the morning sky.

Leonid meteors slam into the Earth’s atmosphere at 44 miles per second. The shower peaks on the 18th, at a rate of a few per quarter hour. The morning sky is dark with the nearly first quarter Moon setting in the middle of the night.

Satellites: The International Space Station overflights happen in the pre-dawn sky for most of November. Compare the brightness of the sunlight reflecting off the Station with our morning planets. Will be X-37B reenter this month? If this OTV-4, aka, USA-261, stays in orbit, overflights are likely to be in the evening. We’ll see what the Air Force decides.

There have been some lovely aurora lately – sometimes in the fall and spring, solar magnetic effects slip through the Earth’s protective magnetic field, even if the solar event is not very strong. Check spaceweather.com or astrobob.areavoices.com for last-minute updates.

The National Weather Service is looking for a cold start to the week, followed by a surge of tropical moisture Wednesday.  The tropical moisture is from the remains of Hurricane Patricia being swept up into the midwest United States.  The latest runs of computer models have sped up the transport of moisture and bring a steady rain into our area on Wednesday, ending as showers Thursday morning.  The moisture will be swept out by a cold front bringing drier air from Canada.  The front is likely not to produce measurable rain as it comes through.  As the Philadelphia office says….

THE GFS GAVE UP THE GHOST ON PASSING THE
SHORT WAVE TROF THROUGH OUR CWA ON FRIDAY, SPEEDING AND WEAKENING
THE PROCESS TO THURSDAY NIGHT. BY THEN THE AVAILABLE MOISTURE WOULD
NOT SUPPORT PCPN MAKING IT INTO THE GROUND. NOTHING FRIGHTENING
ABOUT HALLOWEEN SATURDAY AS IT CONTINUES TO LOOK MOSTLY SUNNY WITH
NEAR SEASONABLE TEMPERATURES.

Happy Halloween!

Wow – planets lineup!

Just happened to wake up at 6am and glanced out to see the stunning line of bright objects in the eastern sky.  These are bright objects for everyone, not just astronomers!  Here’s some photos to try to show how awesome this was….. the first one was taken with a phone cam!

Taken with a Samsung Galaxy S3

Taken with a hand-held Samsung Galaxy S3.   The Moon and Venus are the brightest objects, and Jupiter and much fainter Mars between them.

And here’s the same scene with my wonderful Canon XS on a tripod….

Longer exposure gives a better idea of how this scene looks to the unaided eye.....

Longer exposure gives a better idea of how this scene looks to the unaided eye…..

From lower left to upper right: Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Regulus. Canon XS on tripod 1/2 second exposure at f/11 ISO-800 55mm lens.

From lower left to upper right: Moon, Jupiter, Mars, Venus, Regulus. Canon XS on tripod 1/2 second exposure at f/11 ISO-800 55mm lens.

And while I was out there, I used the telephoto lens to catch the earthshine on the crescent moon.

IMG_9983

and Jupiter and its moon in the telephoto lens….

Portion of larger photo 232mm zoom lens 1 second ISO-800

Portion of larger photo 232mm zoom lens 1 second ISO-800