Meteors, lunar eclipse on the way, weather permitting

Meteor shower to peak Wednesday; eclipse next Tuesday

Posted: Tuesday, January 02, 2001

The Year 2001 is getting off to an impressive celestial start with two heavenly events and Juneau residents may be lucky enough to see them.

One is a meteor shower this week. The other is a total eclipse of the moon next week. The weather will determine whether they're visible in Juneau.

The Quadrantids, one of the most intense annual meteor showers, is active from Dec. 28 through Jan. 7, but Wednesday's pre-dawn hours may be the best time to watch.

The peak of a meteor shower can vary two days in either direction. But forecasters expect the shower to climax Wednesday during a two-hour interval around 3 a.m. Alaska time.

"This is the best chance for North American observers to see this shower until the year 2009," said Robert Lunsford, secretary general of the International Meteor Organization.

To view the Quadrantids, go outdoors an hour or so before the expected maximum and face north. Look for the shower's radiant, a point in the sky from which meteors appear to stream. The radiant will lie about 35 degrees above the northeastern horizon in the constellation Bootes, between the Big Dipper and Hercules.

"The advantage of setting up early is that you could see a trickle of activity turn into a torrent of meteors," Lunsford said. "The longer you watch the more likely you are to witness a Quadrantid fireball."

Like all meteor showers, Quadrantid outbursts occur when Earth passes through a stream of dusty debris swept across space by a comet or through a stream from an asteroid. Unfortunately, views of the Quadrantids are spoiled easily by a good winter storm.

The total eclipse of the moon is scheduled for Jan. 9. It should be visible in northern Canada and most of Alaska.

"Basically, there is a full moon. And the Earth passes between the sun and the moon, casting its shadow on the moon," said Greg Durocher, chief of the Earth Science Information Center in Anchorage.

The eclipse should take place about 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Juneau time, Durocher said. Though a daytime eclipse, the moon is sometimes visible when the sun is - or tries to be - out.

Local astronomy buff Michael Orelove was skeptical that cloud cover would allow residents to see these phenomena, but he didn't want to discourage sky-watchers.

"In Juneau, any time you get a clear night, it's a rare opportunity; just go out and look at the stars," Orelove recommended. "Recently you can see Jupiter and Saturn - the brightest objects overhead in the night sky. Jupiter is the brighter one, and even with a small telescope you can see the Gallilean moons."

For those wishing to know more about the heavens, the Marie Drake Planetarium is holding shows Jan. 9 and 10. On Jan. 9, Orelove said, there will be a free half-hour show, 7 to 7:30 p.m., for 4- and 5-year-olds. On Jan. 10, there will be two one-hour shows. The 7 p.m. show is for families with children. The 8 p.m. show is for a mature audience with the urge to ask more technical questions.

The subject of all shows is "Planets, More than Nine." In other words, Orelove said, it will feature the nine familiar planets in our solar system and then move further afield to planets being discovered orbiting around other suns.

Those who come early can look at the special Mars Corner exhibit, which includes a scale. Weigh yourself to find out how much you would weigh on Mars. The exhibit shows recent photographs of Mars taken from the Hubbell Space Telescope.

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