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More Meteors and the Moon

by William J. Bechaver

HUERFANO- This week, there is yet another opportunity to view an exceptional meteor shower.  Meteor showers are not rare, but the winter months afford better opportunities for viewing due to the fact that winter skies are traditionally darker.  This is because colder temperatures prevent the hazy skies that occur on warmer evenings  when the relative humidity rises.

    Keep in mind however, that this is one of the coldest months of the year, and seeing this display requires being out of doors during the coldest part of the night, so dress appropriately, and limit your time of exposure to the frigid night air.

    This is the Quadrantid meteor shower, and it peaks tonight, Thursday January 3rd.   The peak time of this shower is relatively short, so there will be no second chance to see it this time.  The International Meteor Organization predicts that the time of greatest activity will come just before midnight here in the Mountain Time Zone this year.  The center of that activity will be around the handle-end of the Big Dipper.  The stars that make up the handle will actually be down on the northern horizon at that time of the evening, so if you look to the north, you may see as many as two meteors a minute, or about a hundred an hour, if you can manage to brave the cold that long!  You will actually have an opportunity to view them for a couple of hours, so it may be more advisable to go out at short intervals, spaced sensibly over the course of two hours.

    Then, if you are up even later, or get up early on the following morning, you will have a chance to see the moon and the planet Venus in a nice pairing in the pre-dawn sky.  This winter, Venus is playing the role of the “Morning Star." If you look directly below the pairing, you will see the bright star Antares, in the constellation Scorpius.  The three form a nice triangle.  Look again on the following morning, January 5th. The moon will appear exceptionally close to Antares, giving one an idea of how quickly the position of the moon changes over the course of a day.

    Special note to you cold star-gazers,  Scorpius is classified as a "summer constellation."  With it already visible in the morning sky, it is a welcome reminder that the warmer spring and summer months of star gazing are just around the corner!

    Also, we’ll continue to keep an eye on Venus throughout this month, for it is already setting the stage for a spectacular event by the end of January!  More on that in the weeks to come.