The northern hemisphere is now witnessing the winter season. The night sky will light up with some of the notable astronomical events throughout the season. Most importantly, one does not need to be a professional astronomer also one does not require a telescope to catch these events.
This winter will feature some of the most spectacular celestial events like meteor showers, lunar eclipse, alignment of the planets, etc. Let’s have a look at some of them.
Geminid Meteor Shower Peaks in December
The most spectacular meteor shower this year will make its presence felt in the middle of December. During the peak of winter, the rate of shooting stars will be as many as 120 shooting stars per hour. This peak will occur on the night of December 13 into morning of December 14. People will be able to see the meteor shower through the naked eye. It will be more pronounced when one moves away from towns and cities to minimize light and pollution. The best time to view the meteor shower will be around 2 a.m. as the meteor shower will race from west to east across the sky. One will have to check the local weather forecast before proceeding to watch the event.
Planetary alignment to glow in January
Planets like Venus, Mars, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible just before dawn by January and the best time to see them will be around an hour before dawn. These planets will be aligned in such a way that if one spots one planet, the others can be spotted easily. Venus is the easiest to spot as it is one of the brightest objects in the night sky and will be located to the southeast. Jupiter will be seen as a bright light to the southwest. Once Venus and Jupiter is found, Mars and Saturn will be easier to locate. Mars will have a slightly red glow and Saturn will be located closer to Venus. Mercury will join the alignment by the end of January and will be a faint dot to the west. Uranus and Neptune are some of the largest planets of the solar system but will only be visible through a telescope, due to their distance from Earth. Uranus will be located near the Pisces constellation and Neptune will be located close to Aquarius constellation.
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Comet Catalina to scrape through the night sky
In the coming weeks Comet Catalina will glide through the night sky. Catalina is a small comet which made a close approach to the sun in November. This comet will streak across the night sky and will have a faint green glow. The comet will be visible in January also. However, it will be dim as it moves away from the solar system. Catalina will not be visible to the naked eye, it can be seen with a pair of binoculars.
(Image credit: cs.astronomy.com)
US and Canada to witness the first lunar eclipse of 2016
The first of the two lunar eclipses of 2016 will occur by the end of the winter in March. This eclipse will be a Penumbral eclipse, which means that the moon will pass through the outer part of the earth’s shadow. This will only result in a partial lunar eclipse. If the weather permits, the eclipse will be visible in most parts of USA and Canada. However, regions like South America, Australia and eastern Asia will also be getting their share of the eclipse. The eclipse will not be visible in Europe and Africa.
(Image credit: space.com)
Winter's best for Northern Lights
As compared to the above events, determining when the northern lights will be visible is very difficult. The aurora is frequently found close to the poles. It needs a strong solar storm to enable the Aurora Borealis to be seen further to the south in regions like USA, Europe and northern Asia. It is almost impossible to forecast solar storms but when these storms occur astronomers can tell when and in which areas of the Earth these dazzling lights can be seen. The drier the air, the better it will be visible. For better viewing, it is best to move away from cities and towns.
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Featured image credit: theskyscrapers.org