What's Up in the Night Sky
Over the next few days, we might be treated to a great display. The Geminid meteor shower is serving up its annual dose of night sky fireworks peaking between the dark hours of December 12 through dawn of the 14th. I've already seen a few bright meteors in the wee hours before dawn this entire week and the forecast is for between 80 and 120 meteors per hour or as many as 1 to 2 per minute.
Unfortunately, it is going to be difficult to see that many. There is a challenge since we are contending with a waxing gibbous moon that will be full just three days after the Geminids' peak. The best time to start looking will be between the hours of 3:00 AM (roughly the time of moonset) and about 6:00 AM as twilight begins to brighten.
The meteor shower will appear to emanate from the area around Castor and Pollux in Gemini but will be visible throughout the sky. So, set your alarm clocks! Have warm clothes, gloves, boots, and hat already laid out (and don't forget a pot of coffee). Go try and see a few! They are bright and if we are lucky, very prolific!
If you are already up in those predawn hours to see the meteor shower, you are perfectly situated to see a comet, too!
No, we can't see Comet Ison which was touted to be "The Comet of the Century" for much of the past year. Poor Ison was basically eaten by the sun as it made its swing around our star and is now thought to be nothing more than a traveling debris field.
Comet Lovejoy (C/2013R1) has been lurking quietly (and visibly) in our night sky since November. It became naked eye visible for some about the first of November and is still for those with sharp eyes and ultra dark skies. I've seen it several times with my 8 x 43 binocular and it was and is easy to find. Right now it is just a bit west of the Keystone in Hercules. Hopefully the finder chart will upload to this blog.
Comet Lovejoy is a long period comet discovered by Terry Lovejoy, an Australian amateur astronomer and is one of several he has discovered. It passed closest to the earth on November 1 and had an apparent magnitude of 4.5. For the next several days it will be in the vicinity of the constellation Hercules.
Plenty to see if you're willing to put up with the cold and your skies are clear. Keep looking up! -LJC
Here's a chart from Astro Bob to help you locate Comet Lovejoy.