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January Night Sky

.Enjoy our starry night skies
Be a considerate neighbor: reduce nighttime glare.
Shield your outside lights downward.
Let the stars light up the night.

January 2013 Night Sky

—Charlie Christmann

Star map is for January 15, 2013, at 8:00 p.m.

Contemplating the End

As I write this article, it is December 19, only two days until the end of the world as we know it. I’m wondering how it will happen. According to some conspiracy theorists, it will be the result of Nemesis, a rogue planet, some special alignment with the galactic center, or our own star, the sun, obliterating Earth.

The Nemesis proposal has a nearby companion red dwarf star orbiting our sun on a highly elliptical orbit. It is, according to some, the reason for periodic extensions throughout geologic history. Unfortunately, as our ability to study dim stars around the galaxy has improved, we have eliminated the possibility of us living in a binary star system. If Nemesis existed, our ground or orbital telescopes would have found it by now.

The rogue planet, sometimes named Nibiru, scenario is also disproven. Again, if it existed and was on a collision course, it would be one of the largest, brightest objects in our sky, just look up—no big bright thingy up there. Moreover, our telescopes would have been the first to spot something that large years ago.

Okay, how about that Mayan galactic calendar alignment idea? On December 21, 2012, the sun is aligned near the galactic center on the day of the northern winter solstice. This alignment occurs because of the Earth’s wobble around its axis. It causes several different stars to be the “North Star” over a period of 25,800 years. It also causes the position of the sun to change over time, moving backward through the Zodiac. Currently, the December sun resides in Sagittarius, which straddles the Milky Way and points the way to the galactic central black hole called Sagittarius-A*. The sun has been traversing the galaxy in December for at least the last three hundred years with no ill effects. This alignment only seems to have astrological significance.

Finally, what about the sun flaring and wiping out civilization? Large solar flares can cause havoc here on Earth. Satellites can be destroyed, electrical grids can be damaged. However, it takes a really big one to get past Earth’s protective magnetic field. On September 1 and 2, 1859, the largest recorded geomagnetic storm, due to a gigantic flare, occurred. According to reports, aurorae were seen around the world as far south as the Caribbean; over the Rocky Mountains, the glow was so bright that gold miners woke up in the middle of the night and started making breakfast. Telegraph systems all over Europe and North America failed, shocking telegraph operators, throwing sparks from poles and telegraph keys, and starting fires. A December 2005 solar storm disrupted satellite-to-ground communications and Global Positioning System (GPS) navigation signals for about ten minutes. While larger flares are possible, they are highly unlikely even as we move toward an eleven-year solar maximum. Predictions for this cycle, peaking sometime in 2013, have the sun less active than the previous cycle. As of December 19, NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center (www.swpc.noaa.gov) has the geomagnetic “Kp index” quiet (that’s good) through mid-January, with only a one percent chance of major X-class solar flares through December 21.

So, if you are reading this, congratulations—you escaped the apocalypse. Happy New Year!

Rogue Rock

If you still need something to worry about, start worrying about February 15. An asteroid, designated 2012 DA14, one-hundred-eighty-feet across is scheduled to pass within 21,500 miles of the Earth’s surface, inside the orbit of our geosynchronous satellite systems that provide satellite TV and radio broadcasts. If it were to strike Earth, NASA believes the impact would equal 2.4 megatons of TNT—big enough to wipe out a large city. While scientists say 2012 DA14 will not strike us in February, the space rock will be back in 2020 for another close encounter; fortunately, a collision with us has been ruled out then, too. Beyond that, this one is worth watching.

The Planets and Moon

  • Sunrise is from 7:15 a.m. on the 1st to 7:05 a.m. on the 31st. Sunset is from 5:05 p.m. to             5:35 p.m. respectively.
  • Mercury passes behind the sun this month.
  • Venus can be seen the first half of the month low in the SE an hour before sunrise.
  • Earth reaches perihelion, its closest approach to the sun, on January 1st at 9:38 p.m.
  • Mars sets this month at 6:54 p.m. in the WSW.
  • Jupiter is high and bright overhead at sunset this month. A Moon-Jupiter conjunction                  occurs on the 21st in Taurus.
  • Saturn rises from 2:20 a.m. early in the month to 12:30 a.m. late in the month. There is a Moon-Saturn conjunction in Libra on the 6th.
  • The Quadrantid meteor shower peeks on the 3rd. Expect to see around eighty meteors per hour from a dark location.
  • The moon is new on the 11th and full on the 26th.
 
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