SkyWay will have a topic selected based on what is currently going on in the sky during the week and inform you how to observe it - for example, this week's topic will be on the Quadrantids. Next, I will make a note for something interesting to look at each week. After that, I will post the Sky At A Glance Report from Sky And Telescope, and finally I will make the closing line. Now, onto the blog!
For many of us, the New Year is a way to look to the future. However, with the New Year comes a meteor shower known as the Quadrantids, a Northern Hemisphere-favoring event. This meteor shower typically peaks on January 3-4 and the peak lasts for a few hours at best. Timing is important with this shower as its peak is quite the gamble, unlike the Perseids, which occur in August and have a peak of a day at least. This year, the Quadrantids peak at 14:00 UTC, the morning of Tuesday, January 3. This means that the Americas should have the best shot at seeing this meteor shower, weather permitting. Readers in Asia will have to try for the morning of January 4. With the moon being relatively crescent-shaped AND setting early in the night, it should not be a problem for anyone wanting to watch the meteors in a nice, dark spot.
The radiant of the Quadrantids can best be found by spotting the Big Dipper - you know, the ladle in the north portion of the sky, that group of seven stars that is part of Ursa Major - and moving down a bit until you spot the bright star Arcturus to the lower right of the constellation. For any of my readers in mid-northern latitudes, however, the radiant won't be over the horizon until after midnight. That doesn't mean the meteors won't be, though! If your weather's perfect, you might just get the illusion of traveling through hyperspace on the Millennium Falcon. Oh, wait, wrong shower - that'll be the Leonids on November of 2032, assuming any of us are alive to see it. (With the Donald in office, I'm not so sure.) Make sure you get to a dark spot away from city lights to get the best view!
Also, whereas most meteor showers come from an icy comet, the Quadrantids' parent shower isn't so obvious. Some say it's a rocky body rather than an icy comet while others say it WAS an icy comet that became a rocky body. The truth is, nobody really knows. So, until the true origin of the Quadrantids is known, it will continue to be the Carmen Sandiego of the meteor showers.Information about the Quadrantid Shower comes from EarthSky.
Recap Quickie - Quadrantids A S#%!show
Well, this year's Quadrantids were (for me) a complete and total bust. I only saw ONE recognizable meteor. ONE. I watched the event live on Slooh and ended up wasting three hours of my life in the process. In retaliation, I am now calling Bootes the "Big Freaking Kite".
Object of Interest: The Orion Nebula
While the Quadrantids are going on in the north, the Hunter Orion is dominating the zenith part of the night sky. You can easily recognize the constellation by the three stars that make up its belt and the red star Betelgeuse that makes up the left shoulder. Below the belt is a small cluster of stars - anyone with binocs or a telescope should point it at this group of stars to potentially see the nebula in the constellation for which it was named. It should take on a pinkish color due to thwe types of gases inside it. If you see a pink hue, you've got it in view!
Sunday - January 1, 2017
The waxing crescent Moon shines about 5° lower right of bright Venus in the southwest early this evening, as shown here. Modest Mars glows 12° upper left of Venus.
Monday - January 2, 2017
The Moon poses between Venus and Mars during and after dusk, as shown in the picture. (Also, early Tuesday morning, look north for the Quadrantids!)
Tuesday - January 3, 2017
Now the Moon stands upper left of Mars and Venus during and after dusk.
Wednesday - January 4, 2017
In early evening at this time of year, the Great Square of Pegasus balances on one corner high in the west. The vast Andromeda-Pegasus constellation complex runs all the way from near the zenith (Andromeda's foot) down through the Great Square (Pegasus's body) to fairly low in the west (Pegasus's nose).
Thursday - January 5, 2017
First-quarter Moon (exact at 2:47 p.m. EST). This evening, look to the right or upper right of the Moon for the Great Square of Pegasus. A diagonal through two corners of the Square points toward the Moon. Also, Orion is now well up in the east-southeast after nightfall, with his three-star Belt nearly vertical. The Belt points up toward Aldebaran and, even higher, the Pleiades. In the other direction, it points down to where bright Sirius rises around 7 p.m. (depending on your location).
Friday - January 6, 2017
Look above the Moon this evening for the two or three brightest stars of Aries. Also, this is the time of the year when Cassiopeia passes highest, just north of overhead, right after dark. When in this position, Cassiopeia is a flattened letter M.
Saturday - January 7, 2017
Aldebaran shines well to the left of the waxing gibbous Moon this evening. Upper right of Aldebaran, spot the Pleiades through the moonlight. In this very coldest time of the year, the dim Little Dipper (Ursa Minor) hangs straight down from Polaris after dinnertime, as if, per Leslie Peltier, from a nail on the cold north wall of the sky. The Big Dipper, meanwhile, is creeping up low in the north-northeast. Its handle is very low and its bowl is to the upper right.
That's it for this edition of SkyWay Weekly.
Remember, "It's my way or the SkyWay!"