What's Up in
SW Florida Skies
Inspiring People to Connect with Nature
Check out the brand-new 5.1 surround sound and laser projection systems in our Planetarium!
Moon Phases Jan 2021:
06 13 20 28
3Q New 1Q Full Moon
The planetarium is presenting mask-wearing, safely-distanced planetarium shows 7 days/week at 12:00 noon and at 2:15 pm. Because a safely-spaced "space" show means about 25% seating capacity, please arrive at least ten minutes before the scheduled show time to be relatively sure of getting seats. We do have hand sanitizer stations in the lobby, and we thank you for helping us keep everyone safe by distancing, wearing your masks throughout the show and using the sanitizer upon entry. Thank you!
Our theme for January 2021 is Space Flight. We are showing four different planetarium shows this month, two on odd-numbered days and the other two on even-numbered days, so that visitors can attend planetarium shows at noon and at 2:15 pm two days in a row and never see the same shows twice! January's Spaceflight-themed shows will take you from the history of the space race to how to sleep in weightlessness, out to orbital observatories finding planets around other stars! Check the calendar and click on each item for a full description. We recently installed a brand-new glorious surround-sound system, so that, coupled with our new-in-2020 laser-phosphor projector (Digitarium Lambda Plus), you should have a great, full-surround, "being there" experience with all of our shows!
On January 13th, 7 - 8:45 pm, we will present "Astronauts and Future Spaceflight," which will be a short talk and a related new planetarium show (preview of a show we will be using in a coming month). On the 27th, from 7 - 8:45 pm, we will present an historical commemoration of the loss of the three Apollo 1 astronauts in a fire on the pad January 27, 1967 and the loss of the Challenger's seven astronauts on January 28th, 1986. These tragedies have served to reinforce both the awareness of danger and safety issues and the resolve of the astronauts who will carry mankind on the next phase of our explorations out of the cradle of Earth. "The January Disasters, History and Spaceflight's Future," too, will have a planetarium video component with a short talk.
Our friends at the SW Florida Astronomical Society's regular first-Thursday open meetings have moved to Zoom for Covid-avoidance, but they are hoping to be back in-person as soon as possible (watch their site for updates: www.theEyepiece.org).
Mornings/Evenings: The sun has begun to rise and set farther and farther north each day, although it is still rising and setting very far south of East and West (that will be true all month). Although it's nearly the coldest part of the year in the northern hemisphere, January 2nd is actually perihelion for the Earth! On January 2nd, we will be only about 91.5 million miles from the Sun, while on July 5th (aphelion) we will be 94.5 million miles from the Sun. Being farther "down the Sun's gravity well" at perihelion, we swing quicker through perihelion than aphelion, so our average distance is 93 million miles.
Brilliant ruddy Mars is high and bright in the early evening around 8 pm -- practically overhead early in January! It will gradually move a little in the course of the month, but basically it will be a great overhead feature in the early evening all month long. The other insanely bright thing you will doubtless notice from sunset on (starting in the ESE and crossing the sky to set before dawn in the WSW) is Sirius, the brightest star in our entire night sky -- it's brilliant white and so bright that its light refracts in rainbow flashes when the local atmosphere is turbulent (as it often is in SW FL). If you can spot the three stars of Orion's belt, with one red giant (Betelgeuse) "above" and one blue-hot star (Rigel) "below," then following the line of the belt stars to the left will bring you to Sirius -- it is "Sirius-ly" bright! It could represent a jewel in the collar of Orion's large hunting hound - think of something with the stature and bearing of an Afghan hound, facing and following Orion the hunter: that's Canis Major (the Greater Dog). The bright star just "above" it is Procyon, the main star in Canis Minor (the Lesser Dog). Together, Sirius and Procyon are known as the two Dog Stars.
Early this month, Jupiter and Saturn, which had their Great Conjunction last month, will be very slowly separating from one another, both low in the West-southwest just after sunset, but by mid-month we will lose them in the evening Sun's glare.
Early in the month, Mercury will be too close to the Sun to see, but by January 16 it will be bright and low in the West-southwest just after sunset.
As the month ages, formerly-brilliant Venus will disappear from our east-southeastern predawn sky as it gets too close to the Sun to be observed. Before it does that, it will be near (below and to the left of, as you look SE) the red star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius, the two bright objects a pretty sight in the early-to-mid January predawn sky. By the 16th, the entire "curly J" shape of Scorpius will be visible to the right of Venus in the predawn sky -- but Venus will be pretty low by then, heading toward its solar crossing.
January 2-3: Peak of the annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower
Every year in January, Earth crosses the orbit of asteroid 2003EH1, which is probably a "rock comet" -- in this case the burnt-out remnant of "lost comet" C1490/Y1. Cometary orbits are messy: lots of little bits and pieces come off the main body as it passes through the "furnace" of the inner solar system (you have to remember, it's used to being so far from the Sun that everything is frozen!). Those little bits and pieces spread out along the cometary orbit, resulting in annual meteor showers when Earth intersects such an orbit, at the same general time/place every year. Rock comets are objects that have comet-style elliptical orbits with comet-style perihelion and aphelion distances, but they do not appear to be made of ice (or if they are, it's under a thick coating of dust and rubble). Unfortunately, this year is a particularly poor year to watch for the Quadrantid meteors, because the very sharp peak of the Quadrantid shower happens while the waning gibbous moon is lighting up the post-midnight sky, washing out many of your chances to see meteors. The origin direction (called the "radiant") of this shower doesn't even get above the NE horizon until after midnight, so 3 am through to about 6 am is the best time window for viewing. Also, after midnight our spot on Earth is facing into the direction of Earth's orbital travel around the Sun, so meteors zoom through our local sky like bugs hitting a windshield -- before midnight, they have to make it around the curve of Earth's bulk to get into our local sky! Anyway, if you look north that late, you will see the Big Dipper in the "pours water" position, and the radiant is about halfway between the end of the Big Dipper's handle and the N-NE horizon. Remember, at the start of the night, we can't see the Big Dipper at all, because it's completely under our northern horizon -- that's how far south we live. But by 9 pm or so you will see the cup above the NNE horizon, and as the hours pass, more and more of the Dipper will show up!
This month's planetarium shows have descriptions posted in our calendar. Just click on the individual days and then on the items in our Calendar to see a full description of the shows or events for that day.
To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page.
Visit the Planetarium for updates on all of our space-related wonders! You can even rent the planetarium, for your own space-themed party, wedding, memorial service, or other cosmic event. Don't forget the masks, though, please, whether regular or space-themed.
Hope to see you soon at the Center,
– Heather Preston, Planetarium Director