Missed Meteors and Getting Closest to the Sun

meteorI missed the first major celestial event of 2020 – The Quadrantids meteor shower which peaked Friday night and early Saturday morning.

Murphy’s Law of Astronomy around here made it rainy and cloudy again. That’s a shame because the Quadrantids are short-lived and known for bright fireball meteors with long, glowing tails.

Poor old constellation Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant hence the meteors’ name) is one of the former constellations that was demoted, but the meteors continue to shoot out of that quadrant.

sunrise sunset

The second event is unobservable with your eyes. Earth will reach its closest point to the sun for the whole of 2020 on January 4 or 5 (depends on your time zone). It happened today, January 5, at 07:48 UTC (2:48 a.m. Eastern Time) while I was sleeping.

This is what astronomers call perihelion – Greek peri meaning near and helios meaning sun. Shouldn’t it feel warmer if the Sun is “only” 91,398,199 miles (147,091,144 km) away?  Nope. That elliptical orbit has nothing to do with seasons.

In fact, in early July 4, 2020, when the Earth reaches aphelion (most distant point), it will be much hotter here in Paradelle though the Sun will be 94,507,635 miles (152,095,295 km) away from us.

Being 3 million miles closer to the sun today doesn’t seem to make a big difference in our lives – though it seems like it should. It does affect seasonal lengths because right now Earth is moving fastest in its orbit around the Sun. That makes my Northern Hemisphere winter and someone else’s Southern Hemisphere summer the shortest seasons.


Shooting Out of the Quadrant


If you wake up early tomorrow (January 4) and are in the Northern Hemisphere and the conditions are clear, you can see the Quadrantid meteors in the predawn hours.

The annual Quadrantid shower is nominally active during the first week of January, and is best seen from northerly latitudes but, unlike other meteor showers, peak activity lasts less than a day. You need to be on the night side of Earth at that peak.

The Quadrantid shower doesn’t get as much attention as other longer-lasting ones. I’m also giving it some publicity because I feel bad for the defunct 19th century constellation Quadrans Muralis (mural quadrant) that it is named after. It was located between the constellations of Boötes and Draco, near the tail of Ursa Major (Big Bear). I don’t know why, but it is no longer in use. Possibly, it refused to use social media and a smartphone and so faded into obscurity. It is not alone. There is a whole group of former constellations.

That is the “quadrant” constellation in the top left. I’m sure that sailors used it at one time for navigation when quadrants were in use.

Find a dark, open sky, and look in a general north-northeast direction for an hour or so before dawn and you  might see up to 50 or more meteors per hour, but its peak is short and sweet.

In any case, you can use the waning crescent Moon and nearby Mars to the right of it to guide you on a line of about 45 degrees to Jupiter shines to the right/west of the moon and Venus and Saturn waiting  low in the southeast/left during the dark hour before dawn.