New year to have a meteoric start
Posted January 2, 2014
Updated January 3, 2014
With mostly clear skies expected this weekend, the new year will get off to a nice astronomical start with the annual Quadrantids meteor shower.
The Quadrantids, named for the ancient constellation Quadrans Muralis, will be most visible for just a few hours before dawn Saturday morning, Jan. 4. The Quadrantids are very different than other meteor showers, which may be visible for days.
Look to the east a few hours before sunrise, below the constellation Ursa Major (the Big Dipper). A maximum of 80 meteors per hour are expected as Earth moves through debris left by comet 2003 EH1, which broke up about 500 years ago. The bright star to the right and below the big dipper is Arcturus. To the right of Arcturus, look for orangy-red Mars.
This week is also good time to observe Jupiter rising on the eastern Horizon shortly after sunset. The Sun, Earth and Jupiter will line up as Jupiter reaches opposition on Sunday, Jan. 5. The gas giant will be about an Earth-sun distance (1 AU) closer than its average 5.2 AU (483 million miles) distance from Earth. Jupiter probably won’t look any bigger but it will appear nearly twice as bright as it does this summer.
Also, look to the opposite horizon for Venus while you can. Venus has phases just like our moon. The Venusian equivalent of first quarter occurred last Halloween and the planet has reduced to the thin sliver we’ve seen our evening skies recently.
The sun, Venus and Earth will line up when Venus reaches inferior conjunction on Jan. 11, hiding Venus from our view.
About a week later, we will see a sliver of Venus as it emerges, but in pre-dawn skies instead.
Tony Rice is a volunteer in the NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador program and software engineer at Cisco Systems. You can follow him on twitter @rtphokie.