January 2011 arrives with a brief but intense meteor shower visible the night of January 3-4. Known as the Quadrantids, more than 100 meteors an hour have been seen, some years. You will see the most well after midnight.
January 2011 arrives with a brief but intense meteor shower visible the night of January 3-4.
Known as the Quadrantids, more than 100 meteors an hour have been seen in some years. You will see the most well after midnight.
This year, a new moon also arrives Jan. 4, giving a dark sky all night long.
Meteors will streak cross the sky, seeming to radiate from a point mid way between the handle end of the Big Dipper and the head of the constellation across the Dragon. At this time of night, the radiant point is high up in the northeast. You may watch for them earlier in the evening, but the shower numbers will be lower. The higher the radiant is in the sky, the more likely you can expect to see.
At the risk of sounding like your mother, bundle up very warmly. This is generally the coldest time of year, and you may be surprised how quickly you feel the cold if you are out for a while, even in a coat and hat. It’s amazing how many people don’t care to wear a hat! Comfortable winter stargazing, in snowy climes, means going beyond what you need to dash to the car. Consider a sleeping bag, hunter’s hand and feet warmer pads, and protection for your face. Layers are important.
It can be frustrating to use a telescope on very cold nights. It does not take long for your breath to condense on an eyepiece lens. Be very careful not to scratch the lens to wipe off the dew; use a soft, clean tissue or cloth, dabbing lightly. Keeping the eyepiece warm in your coat pocket, or even tied to a hunter’s hand warmer, can help. If you have a reflector telescope - one that has a large mirror at the bottom and an open top end - set it outside for at least an hour before observing. This will help the warmer air inside the tube to escape, damping down the air currents that would otherwise spoil close-up views of the moon or planets.
While at it, let your eyes adjust to the darkness before venturing out in the cold. Then you will be ready to begin observing the starts immediately and you will make more efficient use of time before the cold winter air sends you back inside. You may look like a lunatic, but at least one company (Orion Telescopes & Binoculars) sells red eye goggles. Wear these inside even in a lighted room, and your eyes will still be able to adapt to the dark night. That can be preferable to sitting in a darkened room inside if your honey for some reason you can’t imagine, might want the lights on inside the house a little while longer.
Speaking of domestic tranquility, consider putting up shades on the window near where you might go outside, which will block inside light and let normal indoor activities to continue.
Astronomers can be an odd bunch. They’re the last ones to call the power company when there is an electrical outage and the stars are out. They’re the ones who sometimes forget to go to bed and its not because of the Late, Late, Night Show (is that movie show still airing on TV?). They’re the ones who, upon seeing a beautiful blue daytime sky, immediately think hours later, whether the clear weather will continue.
In the evening, enjoy beautiful Orion, the champion of winter, high in the southeast. The bright orange-red star Betelgeuse marks the top left corner of Orion.
Look for brilliant Venus before dawn and during morning twilight, in the southeast. The planet rises about two hours ahead of the sun.
Jupiter shines bright in the evening southwest. Look for much dimmer Uranus immediately above it, with binoculars.
Did anyone see the total lunar eclipse on the early morning of Dec. 21? The writer was able to see it briefly, as short breaks in the clouds passed over. The moon appeared as a dim, orange-yellow ball. If anyone took a picture, you are welcome to send it to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name and where you took it, as well as your impressions.
Keep looking up!