In final week’s Sky Watch column, I urged you to get out within the night and watch the good winter constellations, equivalent to Orion the Hunter and his gang of shiny shiners, on the rise within the jap sky. This week, I urge you to get out within the early morning, as early as 1 a.m. or nicely earlier than morning twilight. All these nice winter constellations will nonetheless be on the market however by then they’ll have shifted over to the western heavens due to Earth’s rotation. You’ll even be celestially greeted by a pleasant waning crescent moon rising within the southeastern sky.
I do know it might take a bit of extra to climb out of that heat mattress, nevertheless it’s so value getting previous that hurdle this week as a result of we have now probably the greatest meteor showers of the 12 months and two shiny planets are in fairly a celestial hug.
The annual Leonid meteor bathe is constructing and can peak Friday and Saturday mornings. All this week you will note a couple of extra meteors or “shooting stars” than regular, particularly within the darker countryside. What makes them enticing this 12 months is that there isn’t a lot gentle being solid by the crescent moon, leaving a darker backdrop for catching these “falling stars.” Away from the town lights you may see greater than 20 — and even 30 — meteors an hour.
Annual meteor showers such because the Leonids happen when the Earth, in its orbit across the solar, plows into particles left behind a comet. Comets are kind of “dirty snowballs” of rock and ice that orbit the solar in extremely elliptical, elongated orbits. When their orbits take them shut the solar, they partially soften, leaving a particles path made up of tiny particles from the dimensions of mud grains to pebbles concerning the measurement of small marbles. The comet that fuels the Leonid meteor bathe known as Temple Tuttle. It final got here via this a part of the photo voltaic system in 1998 and gained’t return once more till 2031. The Earth in its photo voltaic orbit is busting into this path from Temple Tuttle at 66,000 mph, and on the identical time, these particular person comet particles particles or bullets are whizzing alongside of their orbit at 1000’s of miles per hour as nicely. This signifies that the particles can crash into our ambiance at speeds over 150,000 mph!
With that form of velocity, particular person particles shortly fritter away as a result of great air friction, and we are able to see the fast streaks of sunshine adorning the celestial dome. The gentle we see isn’t the due to particles combustion. There’s no approach you may see that. These tiny particles fritter away wherever from 50 to 100 miles excessive. The streak we see is the glowing column of air being chemically excited by the particle that’s ripping via it. Sometimes you see completely different colours in these streaks, which point out the sorts of fuel in our ambiance which can be being quickly aroused.
Meteor showers are greatest seen after midnight, as a result of that’s if you’re on the facet of the rotating Earth that’s plowing into the comet particles. It’s form of like driving cross county on a heat summer time evening. You get extra bugs smashed in your entrance windshield than you do in your rear window. After midnight we’re dealing with the “front windshield” of the touring Earth.
This meteor bathe known as the Leonids as a result of the meteors appear to emanate from the final course within the sky the place the constellation Leo the Lion is poised. After midnight, Leo is hanging within the jap sky and appears like a backward query mark. That makes Leo the radiant of this meteor bathe.
That doesn’t imply that it’s best to limit your meteor looking to simply that space of the heavens. If you do, you’ll miss so much as a result of the meteors can present up wherever within the sky. You know they’re a part of the Leonids as a result of their “tails” appear to level again within the normal course of Leo the Lion. The greatest solution to look ahead to the Leonids, or every other meteor bathe, is to lie again on a garden chair with blankets someday after midnight, ideally after 2 or three a.m., roll your eyes throughout the evening sky and see what number of meteors you notice in a given hour. It’s a enjoyable group or household exercise as a result of you possibly can hold one another firm and evaluate meteor sightings.
To prime off morning stargazing this week, the 2 brightest planets we see from Earth, Jupiter and Venus, are having a really shut conjunction you’ll love! They’ll be virtually “touching” one another. Just as morning twilight begins round 6 a.m., search for the planets within the very low jap skies simply above the horizon. You can’t miss them as they’ll seem like cat’s eyes. In truth, on Monday morning, they’ll be of their closest celestial hug, lower than a half diploma aside. That’s lower than the width of one in every of your fingers held at arm’s size. Of course the planets are nowhere close to one another bodily, however in the identical line of sight. Venus is about 160 million miles away and Jupiter’s about 595 million miles.
Enjoy the early morning delights!
This week’s Star Watch packages: