Comets, Northern Lights, Martians, and Shooting Stars … Oh My!
Looks like a busy start to 2016 for star gazing. We are going to start out with the possibility of northern lights, a comet is dropping by, mars is in the mix, and the first meteor show of the year, the Quuadrantids will crank up. Wednesday night the northern lights might light up the sky. Will we be able to see this in Delaware? Nope, not here, but some folks farther up north might be able to if they can get away from the clouds. Especially along the Canadian border, now you have an excuse to travel there. A solar flare from December 28th created a Coronal Mass Ejection, which creates the aurora borealis. States as far south as Iowa and Nebraska might get treated to a show. There will be a lot of cloud cover in many areas able to view the event. Once in a great while we have the possibility of seeing the northern lights but light pollution is usually an issue looking north.
There is another show we may able to see, depending on the cloud cover. On January 4th during the predawn hours you might be able to watch the first meteor show of the year. The Quadrantids will reach its peak at sixty to 120 meteors ZHR. The Zenithal Hourly Rate (ZHR) is the amount of meteors expected per hour during a peak, the Quadrantids are one of the top three. However this event can be disappointing due to the speed of the peak, it may only last a few hours or less. You will need to be in a dark location and the meteors will radiate from the Quadrans Muralis. A constellation created in 1795 by the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande, however it is no longer recognized by astronomers, but still give the meteor shower its name. The parent constellation of the Quadrans Muralis is Bootes, Greek for the herdsmen or plowman, literally translated as ox driver. It is recognized as one of the 88 modern constellations, located in the north sky, near the handle of the Big Dipper. It should be good, but fast show.
Out other visitor this coming year is Comet Catalina (C/2013 US10). She will be headed out of the solar system and she is shining at the 6th magnitude. That means you will need a telescope or good binoculars to see Comet Catalina. On January first it will be much easier to find since it will pass within 0.5 degrees of Arcturus the 4th largest star int he sky that shines bright orange. The star and comet will rise in the east after midnight then ride high in the southeast by dawn. Every morning Comet Catalina will appear to travel roughly two degrees farther north of Arcturus. Not only will the star Arcturus be part of a duo, it will also create a trio on January third.
The martian Triangle can be seen on dawn of January third. The waning crescent moon will be perched above Mars and will form a triangle pattern with the the star Spica to is right, a bright blue star. They will appear close together. Looks like the new year will start with quite a night sky show.