The Sky Tonight Update: Jan. 19, Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation

Mercury elongation

This January 19th, the planet Mercury reaches its greatest western elongation of 24.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.

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The Sky Tonight Update – Jan. 12, Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation

Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation

This January 12th, Tthe planet Venus reaches its greatest eastern elongation of 47.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Venus since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky.

Look for the bright planet in the western sky after sunset.

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Quadrantids Meteor Shower – January 3, 4

 The Quadrantids

The Quadrantids is an above average meteor shower averaging about 40 meteors per hour at its peak. It is thought to be produced by dust grains and particles left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, first discovered in 2003.

The shower runs annually from January 1st through the 5th but it peaks this year on the night of the 3rd and morning of the 4th. Once the first quarter moon sets just after midnight it will leave the skies dark enough for a nice show. The best time and place to view this shower will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Bootes, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

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The Sky Tonight Update: Ursids Meteor Shower, Dec. 21-22 peak

The Ursids is a minor meteor shower producing about 5-10 meteors per hour. It is produced by dust grains left behind by comet Tuttle, which was first discovered in 1790. The shower runs annually from December 17-25. It peaks this year on the night of the 21st and morning of the 22nd.

The second quarter moon will block many of the fainter meteors but if you are patient, you might still be able to catch a few of the brighter ones. Best viewing will be just after midnight from a dark location far away from city lights. The Meteors will appear to radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor, but can appear anywhere in the sky.

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The Sky Tonight Update: Supermoon #3, Dec. 14

December 14th will bring the third and last of what is known as the “supermoon.”  The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated.  This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Cold Moon because this is the time of year when the cold winter air settles in and the nights become long and dark.

The third supermoon has also been known as the Full Long Nights Moon and the Moon Before Yule. This Moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual.

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The Sky Tonight Update: Geminids Meteor Shower, Dec. 13-14 peak

The Geminids is the king of the meteor showers. It is considered by many to be the best shower in the heavens, producing up to 120 multicolored meteors per hour at its peak. It is produced by debris left behind by an asteroid known as 3200 Phaethon, which was discovered in 1982. The shower runs annually from December 7-17.

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The Great Red Spot is Changing Shape

great red spot

Jupiter’s Great Red Spot is a swirling anticyclonic storm that was previously large enough to fit three Earths inside.  However, observations taken by the NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope has revealed that this is changing, both in shape and size.

So why is Jupiter’s trademark feature beginning to downsize?

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Ninth Planet May Exist

 

21PLANET-master1050-v2

An artist’s impression of a possible ninth planet. It would be quite large — at least as big as Earth — with a thick atmosphere around a rocky core. CreditCalifornia Institute of Techonology

 

 Caltech scientists Konstantin Batygin and Mike Brown make the case for Planet Nine, a giant planet tracing a bizarre, highly elongated orbit in the outer solar system.

Carl Sagan’s Solar-Powered Spacecraft Gets a Test Flight

solar spacecraft

Carl Sagan once proposed the idea of sailing through the cosmos via a solar-powered spacecraft.  This spaceship would use sunlight radiation to power its flight much like a boat uses the wind for propellant.  On May 20th, the Sagan co-founded Planetary Society will initiate its first test flight for such a solar vehicle:  the LightSail.

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