Busy Skies At Dawn: Quads Meteor Shower, Mars Swoops By Jupiter

The Full Wolf Moon supermoon emerges from clouds after moonrise Monday night seen from Duluth and Lake Superior. Bob King

Hope you got irradiated by the bright supermoon on New Year’s night. Clouds blocked the moonrise by me but for only about 15 minutes. Soon, the moon triumphantly broke into view and blazed all night long. High clouds gave it a soft, yellow ruff early. Later, a phenomenal ice crystal halo developed with the supermoon as the bulls-eye.

A 22-degree halo circles the moon on Jan. 1. Earlier that evening, a bare tree screens the view. Bob King

Tonight, the moon’s in waning gibbous phase and rises a couple hours after sunset, leaving a brief window of dark sky to take in the winter stars and Milky Way. The action now shifts to the morning hours with two events of note. The first is the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower which happens around 3 p.m. this afternoon (Central time). The shower was active this morning shortly before dawn and will be again tomorrow morning. Unfortunately, the moon will put a big hurt in the Quadrantids because it’s still bright and remains up through morning twilight.

The Quadrantids get their name from the constellation Quadrans Muralis which no longer exists. Meteor will appear to stream from the direction of the Big Dipper’s handle. This map shows the view looking northeast around 4:30 a.m. local time. Stellarium

During the shower’s narrow maximum, observers under dark skies can see up to 100 meteors an hour, but with the moon out and the slightly off-peak circumstances, we may only see 10 per hour. Whatever does show will appear to radiate from below the Big Dipper in the northeastern sky.

I was out this morning and casually spotted one “Quad” around 6:30 a.m. when I rose to check out some planetary shenanigans in the southern sky. One good thing about the subzero weather that’s currently gripping much of the country are the clear skies that come with it. If you dress well and spend just a half-hour outdoors, you can avoid the pain while enjoying some great sights. One of them is the upcoming very close conjunction of Mars and Jupiter on the mornings of January 6-7 (Saturday-Sunday).

Mars and Jupiter will be near each into next week but closest on Jan. 6 and 7, when they’ll be less than ⅓° apart, equal to about half the apparent width of the full moon. Stellarium

But you don’t have to wait till then to enjoy them. That’s what I’ve been up to the past couple mornings, taking pictures as the two planets draw closer and closer. Zubenelgenubi, Libra’s brightest star, is also in the mix, a couple degrees to the right (east). Together, the threesome have been stretching and squeezing into all types of connect-the-dot triangles. Much fun to watch!

From left: Jupiter, Mars and Zubenelgenubi made an eye-catching sight this morning (Jan. 3) around 6:45 a.m. Bob King

Jupiter’s by far the brightest of the trio at magnitude –1.8 with Mars a distant second at 1.4. The fun continues this week into next, so be sure you make a few minutes to at least catch the sight through a window or on the way to your car. The best time for viewing is between an hour and a half to an hour before sunrise (around 6-7 a.m.). This week features the latest sunrises of the year, so a lot of us are up and around at that time. And while moonlight can compromise a meteor shower, it can’t touch the upcoming conjunction.

Bundle up!

4 Responses

  1. Peg Apka

    Astro Bob. I believe I just saw a meteor while driving home up the Pequaywan Lake Rd. Near North Star Township. About 9:25 PM. Two tremendous flashes of white light off to the North west. Am curious if anyone else saw it.

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