The Quadrantid Meteor Shower Is Coming in 2020—Here’s How to See It

Kurguzova/iStock via Getty Images
Kurguzova/iStock via Getty Images

If your New Year’s resolution is to spend more time appreciating the wonders of space, you won’t have to wait very long to put your plans into action: 2020’s first meteor shower is coming between January 3 and January 4.

According to Inverse, the Quadrantid meteor shower consists of fireball meteors, which shine brighter and bolder than other meteors because they’re made from larger particles of matter. And since the moon won’t be visible during the Quadrantids's peak, the already-bright meteors won’t have to compete with moonlight.

They will, however, have to compete with your habit of being soundly asleep in the middle of the night. The International Meteor Organization predicts that the shower’s peak will occur around 3 a.m. EST on January 4, and only last for about four hours [PDF]. It will take place in the northern part of the sky, so your chances of seeing the shower are better if you live in the Northern Hemisphere.

The meteor shower was named the Quadrantids because its radiant point—or the location in the sky from which the meteors seem to originate—was in a now-obsolete constellation called the Quadrans Muralis, identified in 1795 by French astronomer Jérôme Lalande and then omitted from the International Astronomical Union’s list of constellations in 1922.

Luckily, there are a couple other recognizable landmarks, so to speak, to help you figure out where to direct your gaze come next Friday night. According to EarthSky, the Quadrantids’s updated radiant point is near Arcturus, the brightest star of the Bootes constellation, and it’s also not far from the Big Dipper.

In 2003, astronomer Peter Jenniskens suggested that the Quadrantids’s parent body was the asteroid 2003 EH1, rather than an icy comet like many other meteor showers. Though we don’t know if that’s true, we are pretty sure about one thing: The chance to ring in the new year with a fireball sighting is worth losing a little sleep over.

[h/t Inverse]

How to See Venus and the Moon Share a ‘Kiss’ in a Rare Astronomical Event This Week

Mike Hewitt/iStock via Getty Images
Mike Hewitt/iStock via Getty Images

Venus is visible in the evening or morning sky for most of the year, but this Thursday, the second planet from the sun won't be alone in its spot above the horizon. As Travel + Leisure reports, Venus, also known as the "evening star," will appear right next to a crescent moon following the sunset on February 27, resulting in a rare celestial "kiss."

Why will Venus be close to the moon?

Venus is often among the first "stars" to become visible at twilight (though it's really a planet), and it's the brightest object in the night sky aside from the moon. Between January 1 and May 24, it shines brightly above the western horizon. For a few weeks in early May and late June, Venus is washed out by the light of the sun, and from June 13 to December 31, it's easiest to see in the eastern sky around sunrise.

This week, Venus will be in the perfect position to share a "kiss" with the night's brightest object. All the planets, including Venus, appear to traverse the same path across the night sky called the ecliptic. The moon follows a similar trajectory, and on some nights, the celestial body seems to come very close to the planets that also occupy the plane. This effect is just an illusion; while they will appear to be nearly touching on Thursday, the moon will actually be 249,892 miles from Earth on February 27, while Venus will be 84 million miles away.

The Moon just entered its "new" phase on Sunday, and it will only be partially illuminated by the time it meets up with Venus. The waxing crescent moon will rise in the perfect position in the western sky on Thursday to create a joint spectacle with our planetary neighbor.

When to see Venus and the moon "kiss"

The kiss between the moon and Venus can be spotted in the hours after sunset on Thursday, February 27. When you notice it getting dark, head outside and look to the southwest horizon if you live in the Northern Hemisphere. That will give you your best chance at catching the special event. If you miss it this week, you won't have to wait long for your next opportunity to see the Moon kiss Venus: The two bodies will return to a similar position on March 28, 2020.

[h/t Travel + Leisure]

The Moon Will Make Mars Disappear Next Week

Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Take a break from stargazing to watch the moon swallow Mars on February 18.
Pitris/iStock via Getty Images

On Tuesday, February 18, the moon will float right in front of Mars, completely obscuring it from view.

The moon covers Mars relatively often—according to Sky & Telescope, it will happen five times this year alone—but we don’t always get to see it from Earth. Next week, however, residents of North America can look up to see what’s called a lunar occultation in action. The moon's orbit will bring it between Earth and Mars, allowing the moon to "swallow" the Red Planet over the course of 14 seconds. Mars will stay hidden for just under 90 minutes, and then reemerge from behind the moon.

Depending on where you live, you might have to set your alarm quite a bit earlier than you usually do in order to catch the show. In general, people in eastern parts of the country will see Mars disappear a little later; in Phoenix, for example, it’ll happen at 4:37:27 a.m., Chicagoans can watch it at 6:07:10 a.m., and New Yorkers might even already be awake when the moon swallows Mars at 7:36:37 a.m.

If you can’t help but hit the snooze button, you can skip the disappearing act (also called immersion) and wait for Mars to reappear on the other side of the moon (called emersion). Emersion times vary based on location, too, but they’re around an hour and a half later than immersion times on average. You can check the specific times for hundreds of cities across the country here [PDF].

Since it takes only 14 seconds for Mars to fully vanish (or reemerge), punctuality is a necessity—and so is optical aid. Mars won’t be bright enough for you to see it with your naked eye, so Sky & Telescope recommends looking skyward through binoculars or a telescope.

Thinking of holding an early-morning viewing party on Tuesday? Here are 10 riveting facts about Mars that you can use to impress your guests.

[h/t Sky & Telescope]

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