This weekend, January 3-5, look for Quadrantid meteors, study the moving star Sirius, and hunt for Collinder 69 and Collinder 70, two star clusters located in the constellation Orion.
Friday, January 3 - Today is the birth date of Russian astronomer Grigori Neujmin (1886.) His important discovery was the rotating asteroid Gaspra. This is also the date that Stephen Synnot discovered Juliet and Portia, two additional moons belonging to Uranus.
Meteors - Credit: NASA
With very little Moon to contend with, tonight will be the perfect time to keep a watch for members of the Quadrantid Meteor Shower. Its radiant belongs to an extinct constellation once known as Quadran Muralis, but any meteors will seem to come from the general direction of bright Arcturus and Bootes. This is a very narrow stream, which may have once belonged to a portion of the Aquarids. As Jupiter's gravity continues to influence it, in another 400 years or so this shower will become as extinct as the constellation for which it was named.
Saturday, January 4 - Today is the birthdate of Wilhelm Beer (1797), an amateur astronomer who with Johann Madler created an exhaustive and first of its kind map of the Moon - Mappa Selenographia. Tonight discover for yourself what Galileo and Beer saw by looking at the early setting Moon. But, if you hear a wolf howl, perhaps it might be the "Dog Star" on the rise. Alpha Canis Majoris, better known as Sirius, is the fifth nearest star known and has played an important role throughout the history of astronomy. Although Sirius is a "moving star," belonging to the Ursa Major moving group, there is historical evidence that it was seen from the island of Zylos in the Persian Gulf on the 29th of April in the year 11,542 BC!
Watch its dazzling appearance while it is still fairly low and flashing all colors of the rainbow. The light you see from this main sequence star left almost 9 years ago and was seen by Ptolemy, Homer and Plutarch. The ancient Egyptians revered it and the Greeks and Romans feared it. Enjoy it tonight and we'll be back to study.
Sunday, January 5 - Tonight let's turn our attention towards the constellation of Orion and a binocular and small telescope cluster known as Collinder 69. While many of us have looked at Orion's triangular head before, what we may not have realized is that the area surrounding third magnitude Lambda is an open cluster. Containing approximately 19 stars that range from fifth to ninth magnitude, look for a southward extending chain that gives this collection its signature.
Orion - Courtesy of Stellarium
As you look at the brightest star in this cluster, allow me to introduce you: her name is Meissa. The cluster itself is considered young and probably formed no more than 10 million years ago. On a dark night, look again to see if you can spot some nebulous filaments that remain from its birth! Now look at Orion's belt. Almost all of us have seen these three stars time and again, but did you know they are also part of an open cluster? Turn your binoculars there and have a look. In an area spanning about three degrees, you will find around 100 stars known as Collinder 70. Look for many mixed magnitudes, chains and pairings. This area has been used in the search for brown dwarfs!
About Tammy Plotner - Tammy is a professional astronomy author, President Emeritus of Warren Rupp Observatory and retired Astronomical League Executive Secretary. She's received a vast number of astronomy achievement and observing awards, including the Great Lakes Astronomy Achievement Award, RG Wright Service Award and the first woman astronomer to achieve Comet Hunter's Gold Status.