The Geminid meteor shower is about to peak. On Sunday night-Monday morning (Dec. 13/14), debris from “rock comet” 3200 Phaethon will fly out of the constellation Gemini, producing what many forecasters believe will be the best meteor display of 2020. The best time to watch them is generally at around 2am, when the sky is at its darkest.
Visit today’s edition of Spaceweather.com for sky maps and observing tips. Should your interest in the night sky encompass more than observing the occasional meteor shower then why not take a look at the Society for Popular Astronomy website. Here you can find out, in easy to understand language, about the wonders of the Universe.
As we head into the dark nights of winter your author’s thoughts once again turn to ‘sky gazing’ and so this website tends to feature some astronomy related posts which I think may interest the reader. Some do have links to radio, others are what I consider interesting and like to share. This is one which points to an event that is rarely seen in the night sky and just in time for the holidays.
Jupiter and Saturn will appear closer to each other on 21st December than they have been since the Middle Ages. If you gaze into the southwestern horizon at the right time, the two gas giants will look like neighbouring points of light.
Alignments between these two planets are rather rare, occurring once every 20 years or so, but this conjunction is exceptionally rare because of how close the planets will appear to one another, you have to go all the way back to just before dawn on March 4, 1226, to see a closer alignment between these two objects.
The last time Jupiter and Saturn came this close was 1623, but that conjunction was too near the Sun to be seen. So 1226 is actually the most recent time such a close conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn was visible to humans.
Weather permitting, on the 21st December, the conjunction will be observable anywhere on Earth, although it will more difficult in high northern latitudes. You won’t need a telescope, but you’ll have to find a good viewing spot and be on time. Avoid tall buildings or mountains, and look toward the low southwestern horizon right after sunset.
Professor Matthew Bate from the University of Exeter explains how to view the event or watch the live stream from the university if your local weather does not co-operate.
New sunspot cycle could be one of the strongest on record, new research predicts
In direct contradiction to the official forecast, a team of scientists led by the US National Center for Atmospheric Research (NCAR) is predicting that the Sunspot Cycle that started this autumn could be one of the strongest since record-keeping began. In a new article published in Solar Physics, the research team predicts that Sunspot Cycle 25 will peak with a maximum sunspot number somewhere between approximately 210 and 260, which would put the new cycle amongst the top few ever observed.
The cycle that just ended, Sunspot Cycle 24, peaked with a sunspot number of 116, and the consensus forecast from a panel of experts convened by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting that Sunspot Cycle 25 will be similarly weak. The panel predicts a peak sunspot number of 115.
Higher sunspot numbers bring with them the possibility of enhanced radio communications, so we amateur radio operators can watch the developing scenario with some optimism and our fingers crossed.
It has just been announced that the huge radio telescope in Puerto Rico has collapsed. The Arecibo Observatory telescope was one of the largest in the world, a key scientific resource that had been instrumental in pushing the boundaries of radio astronomy.
The US National Science Foundation (NSF) said the telescope’s 900-ton instrument platform fell onto a reflector dish some 450ft (137m) below. It came just weeks after it was announced that the telescope would be dismantled amid safety fears, following damage to its support system.