This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2021 January 2 – 9 ~by Curt Nason
This time of year the brilliant winter constellations really catch the eye, but this is also a good time to revisit some favourites of the past season. If you have a good view to the north, go out around 8 pm to observe two of the best known asterisms in the sky. To the northwest the Northern Cross stands upright, with its base star Albireo about ready to set. The cross forms most of Cygnus the Swan, now making its signature dive into what I hope is an unfrozen lake. To the northeast, the Big Dipper stands on its handle. In a rural area you can probably see the rest of the stars that make up the Great Bear, Ursa Major. Does the bear appear to be dancing across the horizon on its hind legs? That brings back fond memories of watching Captain Kangaroo.
Stretching overhead are the autumn constellations of Cassiopeia, Andromeda and Perseus. With binoculars, look for a miniature version of Draco around the brightest star in Perseus, the galaxy M31 in Andromeda, and if you draw a line across the tips of the W (or M) of Cassiopeia toward Camelopardalis and extend it by the same distance you might chance upon a string of 20 stars called Kemble’s Cascade. From a dark area, try to pick out the Milky Way running from Cygnus through Perseus and Gemini to Canis Major in the southeast.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:45 pm, giving 8 hours, 44 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:53 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:00 am and set at 4:53 pm, giving 8 hours, 53 minutes of daylight (8:02 am and 5:00 pm in Saint John). Around 10 am this Saturday the Earth is at perihelion, its closest point to the Sun at 147 million kilometres. It is also the date of the latest sunrise, but you won’t notice much difference over the week.
The Moon is at third quarter phase on Wednesday, rising due east just past midnight and setting 24 hours later. Jupiter and Saturn set around 6:15 pm midweek, and by next weekend Mercury will have joined them to the lower left of Saturn. With a clear sky and a good horizon you might catch all three in the same binocular field. Mars is a tad brighter than Arcturus and Vega, reaching its best viewing around 7 pm. This could be the last week for seeing its dark markings with a telescope. Venus rises 80 minutes before the Sun midweek but it is still seen easily in twilight. The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on Sunday morning, with shooting stars emanating from between Bootes and Draco, off the handle of the Big Dipper. Named for the former constellation Quadrans Muralis (the Mural Quadrant), it can have a short but intense peak. Some sources say the peak is Monday morning.
With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason.