Sunday, January 11, 2009

Full moon fever, Quadrantids high, Lulin promises: good start for the IYA

While the International Year of Astronomy, now 11 days old, isn't rich in unusual sky phenomena, it had a good start - and one sky phenomenon, often dreaded for drowning out most others with its glare, turned out to be enormously popular: the record-close full moon of January 10 or 11 (depending on your time zone). If one takes the flow of messages on Twitter containing "moon" as a measure of general interest in a topic, the sky show inspired people in all walks of life: Several tweets per second came in at time during the night and several per minute even on the day after - expressing great fascination, pointing to news stories and good (and bad) pictures taken. Here then are the big celestial newsmakers of early 2009.

Closest full moon of the year widely recognized

The had been ample announcements that the 2nd full moon in a row would be the closest of the year (2008 and 2009, resp.), and tons of photographs were taken: You can see some here (hi-res!) and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here and here, see growing collections here or here (this blogger's collecting effort being appreciated!) or moonlit Pelican Lake at midnight or attempts to bring out the subtle colors of the lunar surface (this effort has been met with enthusiasm already). • Another Pleiades occultation by the Moon 3 days earlier was hard to photograph, but some good results are here, here, here and here.

The planets are leaving the evening sky, one by one

Earlier this month, Jupiter slipped by Mercury and is about to disappear in the solar glow soon, to be followed by Mercury - but Venus (with Uranus nearby) will stay on: pictures and stories from January 10 (Austria and Germany), 8 (Austria; also Venus in a moonlit snowscape), 5 (USA, Germany), 3 (Germany, also with Venus), 2 (Austria and Germany) and 1 (Switzerland) as well as December 31 (USA, again at night and in daytime, Austria, Germany, India and many more) and 30 (Germany and India). From India also a newspaper story mentioning the Dec. 31 constellation. • We have also nice close-up pictures of Saturn - still in the morning skies - of Jan. 11 and Jan. 6 (more), observations of another mutual event of two satellites and a Titan egress as well as of Venus on Jan. 10 in false colors and with lots of cloud detail.

Comet Lulin on track for a fine February show; fascinating tails already

Comet C/2007 N3 (Lulin) is now emerging from the Sun in the morning skies at about 7th magnitude and should reach 5th or 4th in the 2nd half of February, coinciding with perfect viewing geometry and moon-free skies in the Northern hemisphere. General information - and many links - can be found here, here (visibility analysis for 50°N), here and here; the fact that we are in the comet's orbit plane will be important, and there could also be a kind of opposition effect. Here are some particularly good pictures - often with a structured plasma tail in the anti-sunward direction and a dust antitail - from Jan. 8 (more and more), Jan. 7, Jan. 5, Jan. 2/3 (the latter two taken at Lulin Obs. by one of the comet's discoverers), Jan. 3 and Jan. 2 (more and with enhanced contrast) and visual reports of Jan. 9, Jan. 5 and Jan. 2 as well as a picture collection, another one, a wide view and newspaper stories from India and Taiwan. • Some upcoming comet conjunctions with deep sky objects, 144P on Jan. 3 (more) and Dec. 31, C/2006 OF2, 29P, 19P, C/2006 W3 and Christensen (also its dis-/recovery story).

Quadrantids 2009 as good as they can get, with a max. ZHR of 150

As the visual observing data show, the Quadrantids had a nice, sharp peak - right on time, also! - with a maximum zenithal hourly rate of approx. 150: That's about as good as it gets! There were plenty of videos (more) and pictures (more) taken, and we have exciting observing reports from arctic Canada, Germany and Arizona. • There is now a 2nd "2nd opinion" on the Leonids of 2009, again not confirming a half-storm with 500/hr. • Yet more photographs of the fresh Canadian meteorites. • The first(?) amateur picture of asteroid (3559) Violaumayer; the official citation should make clear why it's close to the heart of German amateurs. Meanwhile the Catalina Sky Survey has received further funding until 2012. • Well equipped amateurs can now try to catch the NExt spacecraft that approaches Earth on Jan. 14.

British amateur already found two supernovae this year!

He is Tom Boles, and in the first week of the new year he caught his supernovae #118 and #119! Even more impressive is the fact that he started not that long ago, works from England - and works alone. Meanwhile a nice supernova appeared in Messier 61 (one more image). • From China comes a nice view of the lunar umbra on Asian soil during the 1 Aug. 2008 TSE. • And on the Sun itself there is now AR 1010 which is not big, but you take what you get when there is so little there - and what will come is notoriously hard to predict ... • From the "just pretty pictures" department, may I recommend SkyPhotographers and pictures from India (more). • An interesting sidenote on light pollution issues: the dangers of polarized light for wildlife (also covered here and here).

More outlooks to the 2009 skies for January, the whole year (more) and from ESA's viewpoint. • Meanwhile here is an actual picture of the recent leap second. • And finally this blogger has seen more "best of 2008" lists of space and related things in the last weeks than ever before; there are even lists of lists here and here and tops of the tops. Some lists now by Discovery, ITV, TPS, New Scientist (more, more and more), (more), AN, S&T, BAB, Nat'l Geographic, TIME, Universe Today, SciAm, Cosmic Log (more) as well as from the Univ. of AZ, NASA and DLR. And the BBC has 100 things we didn't know 12 months earlier.

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