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Skywatch for the week of Jamuary 3, 2022

Skywatch 1-3-2022.mp3


Tonight, as we make our closest approach to the sun, we also have a meteor shower going on, called the Quadrantids, so named because these meteors seem to come out of a part of the sky where the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis is located. Most meteor showers are the result of comets passing through our part of outer space; they deposit ice and debris in our path and the earth sweeps it up as it orbits the sun. the Quadrantids seem to come from an asteroid – in this case, 2003EH1, which has a five and a half year orbit (and some astronomers think it may actually be a burned-out comet!) This is not a spectacularly big or long-lasting shower, but it’s always nice to see a “shooting star” on a crisp winter night. This shower is best seen between midnight and dawn. Face toward the northeast and look up toward the top of the sky. If the sky is clear and dark, you should see a half-dozen or so meteors each hour.

Skywatch 1-4-2022.mp3

Tue Jan 4, 2022 PERIHELION

The earth's orbit is slightly elliptical, so its distance from the sun changes through the year. The earth reached perihelion today, at 1:52 am. Perihelion is the point in its orbit when earth is closest to the sun. On average, we're about 93 million miles from the sun, but right now, we are just a little under 91 and a half million miles from it. So if we're a million and a half miles closer to the sun, how come we're having winter? Well, not everyone on earth is having winter; summer has just begun for folks who live below the equator. Our seasons are not caused by our slight variation in distance, but by the 23 and a half degree tilt of our planet as it orbits. The rotating, revolving earth is like a gyroscope, with the north axis aimed nearly at Polaris, the North Star. Now our north hemisphere is tipped away from the sun; this puts the sun lower in our sky, and with less direct sunlight we get cooler temperatures.

Skywatch 1-5-2022.mp3


This evening, the moon is in conjunction with the planet Jupiter. This means that the moon and Jupiter will appear fairly close together, over in the southwestern sky at sunset. The moon will be a very pretty, new crescent, and Jupiter, will shine out as a bright star-like object just to the south of it. Two more planets, Mercury and Saturn, will also be in this part of the sky, well below the moon; and Venus, which was our brilliant evening star these past few months, will be setting below the southwest horizon, lost to sight. This coming weekend, on Friday night and Saturday afternoon, Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium will be presenting one of our best shows – “The Planets,” which will investigate these and other worlds in our solar system. We presented this show last year to sold-out audiences, so we’re bringing it back by popular demand! Call the IRSC Box office at 772) 462–4750 for tickets.

Skywatch 1-6-2022.mp3


Can you identify the 10th largest constellation? It is bordered on the north by Delphinus, Equuleus, Pegasus and Pisces; on the south by Capricornus, Piscis Austrinus and Pictor; on the west by Cetus and Pisces again; and on the east by Aquila and Capricornus again. Within its borders are the globular star clusters M2 and M72, plus the remnants of a dying star called the Helix Nebula. This mythological figure sometimes represents Ganymede, the cup bearer of the gods, but also Hercules, who diverted the course of two rivers to clean the Augean stables. There are no bright stars in it, but a few stars near the top of the constellation look like a letter Y, and is supposed to represent a jug of water, and tonight the waxing crescent moon and the planet Jupiter can be found below it. Can you name this star figure, the eleventh constellation of the zodiac? The answer is Aquarius, the Water Carrier, visible in the southwestern sky after sunset.

Skywatch 1-7-2022.mp3


Tonight and tomorrow afternoon, Indian River State College’s Hallstrom Planetarium will present, “The Planets,” which is narrated by Kate Mulgrew, who portrayed Captain Kathryn Janeway in the TV series, “Star Trek: Voyager.” You would need a starship to cover the distances we travel in this 40-minute program – all the way from the earth, beyond Saturn, beyond Pluto to the region of comets in the Kuiper Belt and Oort Cloud, as much as five trillion miles from home. And then of course we go to the stars, searching for other solar systems, and pointing out familiar star patterns like Cassiopeia, Pegasus and Orion, but also identifying faint stars like Epsilon Eridani, around which the fictional planet Vulcan orbits. And if skies are clear tonight, the Treasure Coast Astronomical Society will be outside the Planetarium, giving folks telescopic views of the moon, Jupiter and Saturn. Call the IRSC Box Office at 462-4750 for tickets!