18 noteworthy skywatching events in 2014

VietNamNet Bridge – The people in Vietnam will observe a total of 18 exotic astronomical phenomena in 2014, according to the Vietnam Young Astronomers’ Association (VACA), as follow:

Quadrantids meteor shower

Quadrantids – one of the largest meteor showers in 2014 reached its maximum at dawn on January 4.

The Quadrantids is the first major meteor shower of the year. It is usually active between the end of December and the second week of January, and peaks around January 2 or January 3. However, unlike other meteor showers that tend to stay at their peak for about two days, the peak period of the Quadrantis is only for a few hours.

In 2014, the Quadrantids peaked on January 3. A new Moon on January 1, 2014 created ideal viewing conditions for those in the Northern Hemisphere. According to astronomers, those in the eastern part of Asia were the best situated to view the shower.

The shower owes its name to the now defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis. The constellation was left off a list of constellations drawn out by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922, but because the shower had already been named after Quadrans Muralis, its name was not changed. The Quadrantids is also sometimes called Bootids after the modern constellation, Boötes.

The Quadrantids are associated with an asteroid – the 2003 EH1. The asteroid takes about 5.5 years to orbit around the Sun.

Earth passes between Jupiter

Earth passes more or less between the sun and Jupiter, placing Jupiter opposite the sun in our sky. Astronomers call this event an opposition of Jupiter. This phenomenon occurred on January 5. The 2014 opposition is Jupiter’s closest point until 2020. Jupiter rises at sunset, is highest in the sky at midnight and sets at dawn. It shines more brightly than any star in the evening sky. It blazes away in front of the constellation Gemini, near the bright Gemini stars, Castor and Pollux.

Jupiter comes to opposition about every 13 months. In other words, that’s how long Earth takes to travel once around the sun relative to Jupiter. Jupiter’s closest approach to Earth for the year always falls on or near this planet’s opposition date. In 2014, Jupiter came nearest to Earth on January 5. Then Jupiter was only 391 million miles (630 million kilometers) away.

Jupiter is sometimes called a failed star. You would need at least 80 Jupiters – rolled into a ball – to be hot enough inside for thermonuclear reactions to ignite. In other words, Jupiter is not massive enough to shine as stars do.

But Jupiter is the largest planet in our solar system. So when the sun goes down on this early January night, you might — if you’re fanciful enough — imagine bright Jupiter as a tiny sun all night long.

Lyrids meteor shower

Every year in late April Earth passes through the dusty tail of Comet Thatcher, and the encounter causes a meteor shower–the Lyrids. This year the shower peaks on April 22nd-23rd. Forecasters expect 10 to 20 meteors per hour, although outbursts as high as 100 meteors per hour are possible.

Lyrid meteors appear to stream from the bright star Vega in the constellation Lyra. In fact, Lyrids have nothing to do with Vega. The true source of the shower is Comet Thatcher. Every year in April, Earth plows through Thatcher’s dusty tail. Flakes of comet dust, most no bigger than grains of sand, strike Earth’s atmosphere traveling 49 km/s (110,000 mph) and disintegrate as streaks of light.

Lyrid meteors are typically as bright as the stars in the Big Dipper, which is to say of middling brightness. But some are more intense, even brighter than Venus. These “Lyrid fireballs” cast shadows for a split second and leave behind smoky debris trails that linger for minutes.

Occasionally, the shower intensifies. Most years in April there are no more than 5 to 20 meteors per hour during the shower’s peak. But sometimes, when Earth glides through an unusually dense clump of comet debris, the rate increases. Sky watchers in 1982, for instance, counted 90 Lyrids per hour.

Eta Aquarids meteor shower

The Eta Aquariids are a meteor shower associated with Halley’s Comet.

The shower is visible from about May 5-6 this year in Vietnam. The meteors we currently see as members of the Eta Aquariid shower separated from Halley’s Comet hundreds of years ago. The current orbit of Halley’s Comet does not pass close enough to the Earth to be a source of meteoric activity.

Although this shower is not as spectacular as the Leonids, it is not an ordinary event. The Eta Aquariids get their name because their radiant appears to lie in the constellation Aquarius, near one of the constellation’s brightest stars, Eta Aquarii. The shower peaks at about a rate of around a meteor per minute, although such rates are rarely seen from northern latitudes due to the low altitude of the radiant.

The Eta Aquariids are best viewed in the pre-dawn hours away from the glow of city lights. For northern observers, the radiant of the shower is only above the horizon for the few hours before dawn, and early-rising observers are often rewarded with rates that climb as the radiant rises before sunrise. The shower is best viewed from the equator to 30 degrees south latitude.

Mars at opposition

Mars will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Virgo, far above the horizon for much of the night. Regardless of your location on the Earth, Mars will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time.

Mars will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Virgo, far above the horizon for much of the night. Regardless of your location on the Earth, Mars will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time.

This optimal positioning occurs when Mars makes its closest approach to the point directly opposite to the Sun in the sky – an event termed opposition, the exact moment of which will be 03:57 ICT. Since the Sun reaches its greatest distance below the horizon at midnight, the point opposite to it is highest in the sky at the same time.

At around the same time that Mars passes opposition, it also makes its closest approach to the Earth – termed its perigee – making it appear at its brightest and largest in the night sky. This happens because when Mars lies opposite to the Sun in the night sky, the Solar System is lined up so that Mars, the Earth and the Sun lie in a straight line with the Earth in the middle, on the same side of the Sun as Mars.

The time of Mars’s perigee is an especially good time to observe it, since it neighbors the Earth in the Solar System and has the greatest variation of all of the planets in its distance from the Earth. This correspondingly means that it also has the greatest variation in its apparent size and brightness in the night sky.

When it passes opposition, Mars’s sweeps past the Earth rather quickly, and so only appears large and bright in the sky for a few weeks. Whereas the Solar System’s outer gas giants are so far from the Sun that their distance do not change very much depending upon the Earth’s relative position in its orbit, Mars’s distance from the Earth can vary between 0.36 AU and 2.68 AU, meaning that its disk varies in diameter between 25.68″ and 3.49″.

On this occasion, Mars will lie at a distance of 0.62 AU, and its disk will measure 15.1 arcsec in diameter, shining at magnitude -1.4. Even at its closest approach to the Earth, however, it is not possible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light with the naked eye, though a simple pair of binoculars are sufficient to reveal it as a disk of light.

Over the weeks following its opposition, Mars will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, gradually receding from the pre-dawn morning sky whilst remaining visible in the evening sky for a few months.

The best time to observe this phenomenon is May 10.

Moon, Mars out from nightfall till after midnight June 7

As darkness falls on June 7, look for the waxing gibbous moon to huddle up with the red planet Mars. The moon and Mars both reside in front of the constellation Virgo, not real far from Spica, Virgo’s brightest star. You’ll have plenty of time to catch the evening couple – the moon and Mars – as twosome will be out until the wee hours after midnight.

Ancient astronomers were greatly confounded at Mars’ extreme variation in brightness. At its brightest, Mars is about 75 times brighter than at its faintest. It was hard for the ancients to understand why the red planet brightened, dimed and then brightened again over a cycle of about two years.

Copernicus explained that it’s because Mars and Earth both orbit the sun. When Earth and Mars are on the same side of the sun, the distance between Earth and Mars is less, so Mars shines more brightly in Earth’s sky. In the following year, when Mars and Earth are on opposite sides of the sun, Mars appears less bright because it’s farther away from Earth.

Mars is lodged about 7 times farther away at its farthest than at its closest to Earth. Therefore, Mars’ apparent diameter shrinks to 1/7th of its size of when Mars was at its closest. Yet, that 1/7th-figure doesn’t tell the whole story. At its farthest, Mars’ disk size is actually 1/49th as great because you have to square the change in apparent diameter to find out how much its disk has shrunk (1/7 x 1/7 = 1/49).

Next year, in June 2015, Mars will pass behind the sun, to disappear in the glare of the sun. But right now – June 2014 – presents a grand time to watch Mars, so enjoy the red planet before it fades into oblivion in 2015.

Delta Aquarids meteor shower

The Delta Aquariids are another strong shower best seen from the southern tropics. North of the equator the radiant is located lower in the southern sky and therefore rates are less than seen from further south. These meteors produce good rates for a week centered on the night of maximum. These are usually faint meteors that lack both persistent trains and fireballs.

It will take place on July 28/29.

Perseids meteor shower

The Perseids are the most popular meteor shower as they peak on warm August nights as seen from the northern hemisphere. The Perseids are active from July 13 to August 26. They reach a strong maximum on August 12 or 13, depending on the year. Normal rates seen from rural locations range from 50-75 shower members per hour at maximum.

Perseid meteor shower 2013 in Embudo, New Mexico, USA. Photo: Mike Lewinski.

Neptune at opposition

Neptune will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Aquarius, far above the horizon for much of the night.

This optimal positioning occurs when Neptune makes its closest approach to the point directly opposite to the Sun in the sky – an event termed opposition, the exact moment of which will be 21:18 ICT. Since the Sun reaches its greatest distance below the horizon at midnight, the point opposite to it is highest in the sky at the same time.

At around the same time that Neptune passes opposition, it also makes its closest approach to the Earth – termed its perigee – making it appear at its brightest and largest in the night sky. This happens because when Neptune lies opposite to the Sun in the night sky, the Solar System is lined up so that Neptune, the Earth and the Sun lie in a straight line with the Earth in the middle, on the same side of the Sun as Neptune.

In practice, however, Neptune orbits much further out in the Solar System than the Earth – at an average distance from the Sun of 30.27 AU as compared to the Earth’s average distance of 1 AU – and so its angular size does not vary much as it cycles between opposition and solar conjunction.

On this occasion, Neptune will lie at a distance of 28.96 AU, and its disk will measure 2.4 arcsec in diameter, shining at magnitude 7.8. Even at its closest approach to the Earth, however, it is not possible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light without the aid of a telescope.

Over the weeks following its opposition, Neptune will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, gradually receding from the pre-dawn morning sky whilst remaining visible in the evening sky for a few months.

The phenomenon will occur on August 29.

Uranus at opposition

Uranus will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Pisces, far above the horizon for much of the night.

This optimal positioning occurs when Uranus makes its closest approach to the point directly opposite to the Sun in the sky – an event termed opposition, the exact moment of which will be 03:44 ICT. Since the Sun reaches its greatest distance below the horizon at midnight, the point opposite to it is highest in the sky at the same time.

At around the same time that Uranus passes opposition, it also makes its closest approach to the Earth – termed its perigee – making it appear at its brightest and largest in the night sky. This happens because when Uranus lies opposite to the Sun in the night sky, the Solar System is lined up so that Uranus, the Earth and the Sun lie in a straight line with the Earth in the middle, on the same side of the Sun as Uranus.

In practice, however, Uranus orbits much further out in the Solar System than the Earth – at an average distance from the Sun of 19.29 AU as compared to the Earth’s average distance of 1 AU – and so its angular size does not vary much as it cycles between opposition and solar conjunction.

On this occasion, Uranus will lie at a distance of 19.01 AU, and its disk will measure 3.7 arcsec in diameter, shining at magnitude 5.7. Even at its closest approach to the Earth, however, it is not possible to distinguish it as more than a star-like point of light without the aid of a telescope.

Over the weeks following its opposition, Uranus will reach its highest point in the sky four minutes earlier each night, gradually receding from the pre-dawn morning sky whilst remaining visible in the evening sky for a few months.

It will occur on October 7.

October 2014 lunar eclipse

A total lunar eclipse will take place on October 8, 2014, the second of two total lunar eclipses in 2014.

It will be visible over North America, the Pacific, Australia, and East Asia.

This eclipse is the one of four lunar eclipses in a short-lived series at the descending node of the moon’s orbit.

The lunar year series repeats after 12 lunations or 354 days (Shifting back about 10 days in sequential years). Because of the date shift, the Earth’s shadow will be about 11 degrees west in sequential events.

Draconids meteor shower

The radiant point for the Draconid meteor shower almost coincides with the head of the constellation Draco the Dragon in the northern sky. That’s why the Draconids are best viewed from the Northern Hemisphere.

The Draconid shower is a real oddity, in that the radiant point stands highest in the sky as darkness falls. That means that, unlike many meteor showers, more Draconids are likely to fly in the evening hours than in the morning hours after midnight. This shower is usually a sleeper, producing only a handful of languid meteors per hour in most years.

But watch out if the Dragon awakes! In rare instances, fiery Draco has been known to spew forth many hundreds of meteors in a single hour. In 2014, the full moon will intrude on this year’s Draconid shower. Try watching at nightfall and early evening on October 8 and 9.

Orionids meteor shower

On a dark, moonless night, the Orionids exhibit a maximum of about 10 to 20 meteors per hour. Fortunately, the moon will be close to new, providing deliciously dark skies for this year’s Orionid shower. These fast-moving meteors occasionally leave persistent trains. They sometimes produce bright fireballs, so watch for them to flame in the sky.

The Orionids have a broad and irregular peak that isn’t easy to predict. More meteors tend to fly after midnight, and the Orionids are typically at their best in the wee hours before dawn. This year, 2014, presents a fine year for watching the Orionid meteor shower, because the slim waning crescent moon coming up shortly before sunrise won’t obtrude on this year’s shower. The best viewing for the Orionids in 2014 will probably be before dawn on October 23 in Vietnam.

Taurids meteor shower

Unfortunately, the full moon will wash away all but the brightest Taurid meteors. The meteoroid streams that feed the Taurids are very spread out and diffuse. That means the Taurids are extremely long-lasting (September 25 to November 25) but usually don’t offer more than about 7 meteors per hour. That is true even on the Taurids’ expected peak night. The Taurids are, however, well known for having a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors.

In 2014, the bright moon will be out from dusk till dawn, leaving no dark sky on the peak night of the Taurid meteor shower. The Taurids should produce their greatest number of meteors in the wee hours – between midnight and dawn – on November 5/6. Remember, it’ll be possible to catch a fireball or two, even on this moonlit night!

Leonids meteor shower

Radiating from the constellation Leo the Lion, the famous Leonid meteor shower has produced some of the greatest meteor storms in history – at least one in living memory, 1966 – with rates as high as thousands of meteors per minute during a span of 15 minutes on the morning of November 17, 1966.

Leonid meteor storms sometimes recur in cycles of 33 to 34 years, but the Leonids around the turn of the century – while wonderful for many observers – did not match the shower of 1966. And, in most years, the Lion whimpers rather than roars, producing a maximum of perhaps 10-15 meteors per hour on a dark night. Like many meteor showers, the Leonids ordinarily pick up steam after midnight and display the greatest meteor numbers just before dawn. In 2014, the waning crescent moon shouldn’t too greatly interfere with this year’s Leonid meteor shower. The peak morning will be November 17 – or possibly November 18.

Geminids meteor shower

Radiating from near the bright stars Castor and Pollux in the constellation Gemini the Twins, the Geminid meteor shower is one of the finest meteors showers visible in either the Northern or the Southern Hemisphere.

The meteors are plentiful, rivaling the August Perseids, with perhaps 50 to 100 meteors per hour visible at the peak. Plus Geminid meteors are often bright, so, if there’s a bright moon, many meteors may be able to overcome the harsh moonlight. These meteors are often about as good in the evening as in the hours between midnight and dawn.

In 2014, the last quarter moon will somewhat interfere with this year’s Geminid shower, so watch in the evening hours before moonrise. Your best bet is to watch on December 13-14.

Ursids meteor shower

Ursids meteor streams are groups of meteoroids originating from dust grains ejected from Comet 8P Tuttle. These small dust grains (meteoroids) are distributed along the parent comet’s orbit concentrated close to the comet nucleus with fewer grains farther away from the nucleus. Every time the Earth passes through this stream of dust particles (i.e. meteor stream), we experience what is known as a Ursids meteor shower. These brief streaks of light from meteors, sometimes called “shooting stars,” peak on Monday night the 22nd of December 2014, when earth moves through the center of the dust trail left behind by the comet.

Compiled by Na Son

Sponsored links