You probably heard that comet ISON didn’t survive to light up our December skies. What you might not know, however, is that comet C/2013 R1 Lovejoy is still visible in the east before dawn. The moon will interfere with your naked-eye view, but binoculars should make it easily visible.
If you are reading this, you know there are lots of cool things in the sky to observe. But there also are many citizen-science opportunities for motivated people to make significant contributions to current astronomical research.
Local astronomer Dick White forwarded information about the Globe at Night project to raise awareness about light pollution. The link provides a list of dates in 2014 for you to measure the darkness of your observing location and gives you several options for making such measurements.
Smart phone apps are available that measure sky brightness. I have yet to try mine at a really dark location. The old-school method involves comparing what you see to a detailed star catalog. Fortunately, that process is easier than it sounds. The Star Counting Exercise explains how you can simply count the stars in one of several pre-defined triangular regions in the sky and get excellent results.
The International Dark Sky Association is a nonprofit that supports efforts to keep the night sky dark. If you enjoy seeing stars, I encourage you to support this organization.
Now that we have passed the solstice, or “stand still” of the winter sun, the days will begin to get longer and we can welcome Orion and its neighboring constellations into our evening sky.
Both Venus and Jupiter would be great binocular targets this month. Venus is the prominent evening star and is showing us a crescent phase right now as its orbit takes it between the Earth and the sun. Jupiter is almost as bright in Gemini. In early January, Jupiter will be at its closest approach to Earth.
Looking into 2014
I haven’t heard about any more “comet of the century” predictions, but I think it is a safe bet that several comets will be bright enough to see with binoculars or a modest telescope. Another safe prediction is that bright fireball meteors will light up the sky somewhere.
I don’t expect the skies to be filled with drones delivering packages, but the skies in Earth orbit will be getting busier, as several companies are finishing work on private spacecraft.
The SpaceX Dragon capsule already has made a couple of flights to the space station and is undergoing more testing to be able to transport astronauts. Virgin Galactic is scheduled to begin commercial flights of SpaceShipTwo from Spaceport America in New Mexico. The Dream Chaser, the spaceship of Sierra Nevada Corp., recently made its first untethered test flight.
firstname.lastname@example.org. Charles Hakes is an assistant professor in the physics and engineering department at Fort Lewis College and is director of the Fort Lewis Observatory.