2012 is here, and the world shows no sign of ending as the heavens spin on their appointed rounds high overhead. But the diligent observer may be rewarded with several unique an spurious sights, both natural and manmade…
1st up is everyone’s favorite meteor shower named after an obsolete constellation; the Quadrantids peak the morning of January 4th in what is the first large meteor shower of the year. The peak is very swift, only lasting about 12 hours or so and is centered this year on 2:00 AM EST/7:00 AM UTC. This favors the U.S. East Coast in 2012, as the 79% waxing gibbous Moon will set around 2AM local the morning of the 4th for observers in mid-northern latitudes. The radiant of the shower lies at a declination of 52° degrees north at the junction of the modern constellations of Draco, Bootes and Hercules, and thus activity may be visible pre-midnite local, although the setting of the Moon and the rising of the radiant will raise sighting prospects considerably. Expect swift-moving meteors headed outward from the radiant above the handle of the Big Dipper to appear anywhere in the sky. The Quadrantids have been known since the early 1800’s, but there has been much conjecture as to the source parent body. Astronomer Fred Whipple noted in 1963 that the stream bears some resemblance to the Delta Aquarids, and that the orbital path has undergone alterations by the planet Jupiter in the last few thousand years. In 2003, SETI researcher Peter Jenniskens proposed that the source may be then recently discovered asteroid 2003 EH1, which has been tentatively linked to Comet C/1490 Y1, which approached Earth at a distance of 0.52 Astronomical Units on January 12th 1491. Be sure to keep an eye out for Quadrantids on these chilly January mornings, as we commemorate Quadrans Muralis, a constellation that is no longer! (more…)
The first meteor shower of 2012 is the Quadrantids, the peak of which falls on the night of the 03/04 January 2012. The Quadrantids shower has one of the highest predicted hourly rates of all meteor showers, comparable to the two great annual showers, the Perseids and the Geminids, occurring in August and December respectively. However unlike the Perseids and Geminids, the Quadrantids peak is very narrow, occurring over just a few short hours.
The predicted Zenith Hourly Rate (see my previous post about ZHR and what it actually means here) for the Quadrantids is around 120. The narrow peak is predicted to occur some time between 2100 UT on 3 January and 0700 UT on 4 January 2011, however the radiant of the shower – the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis – is very low in the evening hours, rising higher towards dawn, and so the best viewing times are later in this run, just before dawn. (more…)
Astronomy tourism is a burgeoning field – luckily for me, as it’s how I make a living! – with city-folk now starting to make the effort to travel to places with darker skies, in the hope of seeing things that simply cannot be seen from the orange glare of a town sky.
Stargazers at an astronomy tourism event in Sark (image credit: Martin Taylor)
Galloway Forest Dark Sky Park, which I helped establish in 2009, has seen a lot of this dark sky tourism trade, due to its high profile in the media, but many other places around the country – Sark in the Channel Islands, and Exmoor National Park to name but two – have followed suit, hoping to attract the stargazing crowds.
And as more and more people come out of the city for a stargazing weekend under dark skies it’s becoming clear to me that there’s a real appetite for seeing the Milky Way and other elusive dark sky objects. It’s almost become something to put on your “bucket list”: see a wild lion in Africa; fly in a hot air balloon; see the Milky Way.
However there are lots of other amazing astronomical objects visible under a dark sky so here is the first installment of my top-ten “Dark Sky Bucket List”. (more…)
The Draconids are coming! Will this meteor shower produce a storm of observable meteors, or just a minor squall? The Draconid Meteor Show should begin on October 8, 2011 starting at dusk (roughly 19:00 BST) and continue through the evening. Peak activity of this normally minor and quiet shower is estimated to be at 21:00 BST (20:00 UT). There seems to be a wide range of predictions for this year’s shower, but some astronomers believe there could be up to 1,000 meteors per hour, making this a meteor storm! (more…)
Sure, you’ve heard of the August Perseids that come blazing across the sky and are invariably trumpeted by the news as the “Meteor Shower of the Millennium!” on a yearly basis. Perhaps you’ve even heard of the Leonids, normally a feeble November shower prone to legendary outbursts roughly every 33 years. But have you ever heard of the October Draconids?
I’ll admit I hadn’t until the October 1998 issue of Sky & Telescope arrived on my doorstep. Or should I say tent-flap? You see, the last half of 1998 found me deployed with my U.S. Air Force squadron to Al Jaber, Kuwait. In those days, email (and spam) were still a hip “new thing,” giant washing-machine-like CRT monitors adorned many office desks, and we were involved with a cat-and-mouse game between Saddam and the U.N. Inspectors that eventually became the shooting war of Operation Desert Fox. A military base in the desert was also a fine place to do some causal astronomy. The Leonids put on a fine show that year approaching storm levels of 1,000 per hour from our longitude. I remember mentioning the Leonid meteors to one of our F-16 pilots, and they later briefed not to mistake the fireball flashes for Iraqi AAA (an important distinction!) (more…)
Win a chance to have Nick Howes (@NickAstronomer on twitter) equipment consultant for Astronomy now image your favorite object using the almost Hubble sized mirror of the amazing Faulkes Telescopes. One in Hawaii one in Asutralia…the choice is yours?
For every Perseid meteor spotted and tweeted over the next two nights for the Meteor Map, each tweet will be entered into the #meteorwatch competition and the winner randomly selected.
So don’t forget to tweet #meteorwatch, 1st part of your postcode, Country code and how many meteors you just saw.
Share your #meteorwatch experience and have fun 🙂
Faulkes Telescope operates a network of research class robotic telescopes. Currently there are two telescopes, one in Hawaii and the other in Australia each with mirrors nearly the same size as Hubble costing £5,000,000