Perfect Nights For Geminid Meteors by William J. Bechaver

This weekend, we will be treated to a spectacular and active viewing of the Geminid Meteor Shower.

Once again, the viewing conditions are ideal, as the peak of the shower comes late Sunday night into early Monday morning, when the moon is just past new, and out of the sky early on. With crisp, clear wintery nights, this year’s shower promises to provide an average of two of the fireballs every minute!

Go outside any night from now until the peak, and look skyward toward the south-east. Just above Orion you can spot bright Castor and Pollux, the stars of the twins, Gemini.

Though the meteor shower will experience peak activity on the night of Sunday 13 December into the morning of Monday 14 December, any night leading up to then should be rewarding. The location for prime viewing is high in the sky nearly all night long, and with the moon setting early, it will be well out of the picture.

With peak activity being expected at an average of 120 an hour, though it be cold, you can expect to see about two a minute! And if you see none that first minute, just remember, you could see four the next!

So bundle up and go out to enjoy one of the greatest meteor displays to be witnessed this winter.

Since last month’s conjunction with the Sun, Saturn is beginning to slowly emerge into the morning twilight. Currently still lost in the sun’s glare, it is an incredible ten times further from the sun than are we. As we swing around the sun, it will become visible in the morning sky next month, and we’ll watch it as it comes into view. In early June, we will have caught up with it. It will lie directly above in the night sky, and that will be the closest we will come to the beautiful ringed planet this year. We will have to plan a viewing during the warm summer months.

Thanks for your interest in astronomy and our featured columns! If you have any article requests or questions, contact us at spacescape@rocketmail.com for comments, suggestions, or inquiries about scientific information, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for current updates or additional viewing opportunities.

William J. Bechaver is the Director of SPACE – Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE], the premier Astronomical Society in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.

GREAT OBJECTS AT GREATER DISTANCES by William J. Bechaver

Last week, the New Horizon’s spacecraft was redirected toward a very distant object in the Kuiper Belt.

In July, New Horizon’s flew past Pluto, and on into deep space. As it passed, it recorded data and information about the small planetoid and it’s five moons. Since, it has slowly been down-linking that information to us here on earth, for analysis and observation. It sends the information to us very slowly. The radio wave that carries all that information from such a great distance is very weak by the time it reaches the Earth. And traveling at the speed of light, 186,000 miles a second, it takes the information nearly five hours to reach the earth after it is sent.

Last week, New Horizons received several signals from Earth. Taking the same amount of time to reach the spacecraft from us, the signals made four adjustments to the traveler’s course. It is the most distant course change ever attempted from Earth, New Horizon being more than 3.25 billion miles away, it is far more than our distance from the sun beyond the orbit of Pluto.

The new course set for New Horizons will take it to an encounter with an unremarkable object far out in the Kuiper Belt. Currently dubbed KBO 2014 MU69, the object is a small icy body in the far reaches of the solar system. So far out in the Kuiper Belt beyond Pluto, it will take the New Horizons spacecraft more than three years to get to its next destination. Still traveling at over 32,000 miles an hour, after its encounter with Pluto and its redirect maneuver, it is still going over ten times faster than the muzzle velocity of our fastest bullets here on earth.

KBO 2014 MU69 is an unremarkable name for a distant icy body. I’m sure when New Horizon encounters it in January of 2019, it will unfold before our eyes, and become a new world in science books. Perhaps then it will be given a more personal name. Its scientific name denotes that it is a Kuiper Belt Object, and that it was discovered in 2014. It was the 1,745th object discovered in the first half of June of that year. We are discovering many new objects in the solar system every day.

This week, Saturn is in conjunction with the sun, which means it is directly opposite of the Earth, on the far side of the solar system, behind the Sun from our point of view. Currently lost in the sun’s glare, it is an incredible ten times further from the sun than are we. As we swing around the sun, it will emerge in the morning sky next month, and we’ll watch it as it comes into view. In early June, we will have caught up with it. It will lie directly above in the night sky, and that will be the closest we will come to the beautiful ringed planet this year. We will have to plan a viewing during the warm summer months.

Thanks for your interest in astronomy and our featured columns! If you have any article requests or questions, contact Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE] at spacescape@rocketmail.com for comments, suggestions, or inquiries about scientific information, or follow us on Twitter @ColoSpacEScapE for current updates or additional viewing opportunities.

William J. Bechaver is the Director of SPACE – Spanish Peaks Amateur Cosmos Enthusiasts [SPACE], the premier Astronomical Society in Southern Colorado and Northern New Mexico.