New Year

Even though we haven’t had much snow, the clouds managed to block out the peak dates of December’s meteor showers. One thing I have noticed is that the sky is always crystal clear after a storm moves out.

On the 14th I got up at 3:30 a.m. to see if I could find any Geminid meteors and was amazed at what I saw! I went upstairs and opened the door to look out in the southwest. The sky was beautiful, and everything was visible. I did that for 20 minutes, and I saw 20 Geminid meteors. Since it was so cold, I only stayed out for that long, or I’m sure I would’ve seen a lot more.

The Ursid meteor Shower runs from December 19-26 and peaks on the December solstice of 21. So even though it’s now Dec. 23, you could still look for them. They occur between the Big and Little Dipper in the northeast.

The Quadrantid meteor shower is always the first of the year. It usually peaks at 50-100 per hour, but unlike other meteor showers, this one only happens in a brief period of a few hours. Fortunately, they’re predicted to peak on Jan. 4, and the new moon is on the 2nd, so it will be a great time to view them. They originate in the Big Dipper. The best time to view them is around 3 a.m. in the northeast.

Jan. 4 is also when Earth is closest to the Sun for the year. Since the Earth’s orbit is mostly circular, being closer to the Sun doesn’t make a difference to our temperatures, even though we’ll be 3 million miles closer than we’ll be in July. It’s the Earth’s tilt that causes the seasons. Currently, we’re tilted away from the Sun while the southern hemisphere is tilted toward the Sun, which is why it’s winter here and summer down there.

Comet Lovejoy is coming this way from the southern hemisphere. If this sounds familiar to you, it’s because this is the fifth comet discovered by Australian amateur astronomer Terry Lovejoy. This one is Lovejoy Q2. Currently, it’s visible with binoculars but is expected to soon be visible with unaided vision.

This Lovejoy has an orbit of 11,500 years, and its orbit is steeply inclined to the plane of our solar system. So, it’s climbing up high in the sky. Currently, it’s visible to the lower right of Orion mid-evening in the southeast to early morning in the west.

On Jan. 7 it will be closest to Earth and is becoming brighter each night. Right now, you can look before dawn. While you’re looking for the Quadrantid meteors, see if you can find Lovejoy. By Jan. 9, you should be able to look around 8 p.m. before the moon rises. By then, it will be to the right of Orion, about level with his belt. Just look for a star with a tail.

Planets are still visible again in the evening. Venus and Mercury will be paired together low in the southwest with Mercury just below Venus. They’ll be visible about 45 minutes after sunset. Now that winter is here, I’m going to change to doing my article every other week for a few months. Merry Christmas and Happy New Year and have a wonderful 2022!