2018 – Plenty of Sky Shows Ahead

Article Contributed by
Walt Pickut
Martz/Kohl Board of Directors

The New Year promises some spectacular heavenly sights for sky-watchers.
January kicked off already with a great meteor shower, and it will end with a rare Super Blue Moon Eclipse. Quite a few more special sky events will be coming along later in the year.

On January 3 and 4 anyone in a position to see the sky – admittedly an unlikely miracle through the Western New York’s blizzard-filled skies last week – saw the Quadrantids Meteor Shower radiating from the constellation Bootes. The Quadrantids delivered 40 beautiful meteors every hour at its peak. The bright shooting stars were actually dust grains scattered along the orbital path of an extinct comet called 2003 EH1, which was only discovered 15 years ago. On average, the shower runs anywhere between January 1 and 5. This year’s peak occurred on the night of January 3 and the morning of the 4th. Unfortunately, even if the sky had been clear, the almost full moon outshined all but the brightest meteors.

On January 31, be sure to see the Super Blue Moon Eclipse. Earth’s shadow will creep across the bright full moon’s disk as our planet glides between the sun and the moon. Totality, or total coverage of the moon, will begin at 7:51 a.m. Eastern Time, but mostly over the Pacific. Sky-watchers in Western New York will see only a partial eclipse, because the event starts near sunrise. The full moon on that night will also be a supermoon, which occurs when the moon’s orbit leads it closer to Earth making it look bigger and brighter than usual. The full moon of January 31 will also be the second one in the month, making it what is popularly called a blue moon.

As spring approaches, on March 7 and 8, skywatchers will be treated to a Planet Parade.

Early morning risers in late February and early March will see a planetary alignment stretched majestically across the southeastern sky. Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter will appear to hang in space near each other. Over the period of a few nights beginning on March 7, the waning moon will appear to visit each planet along the lineup. Finally, on March 8, the moon will settle itself between Mars and Jupiter. It will be an alignment not soon to be repeated.

To cap off 2018, December 12 will see the closest approach of Comet 46P/ Wirtanen to the sun.

If astronomers’ predictions are correct, the comet is slated to brighten in December by enough to be easily seen with the unaided eye, in which case it will be the brightest comet visible in the Northern Hemisphere in the last five years. The orbiting snowball will reach its closest approach to the sun on December 12 and will be streaming through the bright winter constellation of Taurus, the Bull.

Only four days after Comet Wirtanen slingshots around the sun, it will make its closest encounter to Earth, cruising within 7.2 million miles on its way out of the outer solar system. At that point, the comet will be easy to spot by eye or with a small telescope or binoculars as it passes near the brilliant Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.

But spectacular sky events are not the only reason to visit the Martz/Kohl Observatory. Students, families and amateur stargazers are welcome every Wednesday evening for tours, observing on clear nights and special guest speakers. See www.martzobservatory.org to find out what is happening and find a membership application. Everyone is welcome!

For a deeper look at the night sky, planets, stars and the entire universe, visit the Martz/Kohl Observatory online at martzobservatory.org, check the schedule of events and visit in person. Thank you to Hall and Laury Opticians for sponsoring these Martz/Kohl column.