With 2018 just mere days away, perhaps you’re contemplating New Year’s resolutions. At the risk of being presumptuous, I’d like to suggest some of an astronomical nature.
Longtime readers of this column will recall that I have an astronomical bucket list. So, my first recommendation is to start your own. There’s so much to see in the universe, both with the naked eye and through modest telescopes, that challenges and wonders abound. I try to tackle at least one challenge each year to avoid getting in an observational rut. My “white whale” this year was my first total solar eclipse, but if you missed it, the next one won’t be until 2019, over central South America.
In the meantime, consider learning a new constellation (easy), or seeing Uranus without optical aid (challenging).
Another resolution to consider: Be a smart astronomy news consumer. There are plenty of reliable sources for what’s happening in the sky and astronomical research. But, in the era of click bait, they’re the wheat among a much larger body of chaff.
As in all things, if an astronomy headline seems incredible, be skeptical until you’ve verified it from places you trust, and whatever you do, don’t forward it without checking it out. It’s up to all of us to staunch the spread of misinformation.
Finally, with Idaho being the home to an official dark sky community (Ketchum), a dark sky park (Craters of the Moon), and — most recently — America’s first dark sky reserve (Central Idaho, in the Sawtooths), I implore you to do your part in preserving Idaho’s dark sky heritage.
Make sure all your outdoor lighting is full cut-off (downward directed, so no light heads horizontally or skyward), use security lights with motion sensors, and encourage your neighbors to do the same.
Next column: Annual preview of the astronomical year ahead.
Sky calendar through January 10th:
One hour after sunset:
No planets visible.
One hour before sunrise:
Mercury: SE, very low
Jupiter: SSE, low. Extremely close to Mars 1/6.
Mars: SSE, low. Extremely close to Jupiter 1/6.
Moon: Full moon 12:26 p.m. 1/1. Last quarter 8:27 a.m. 1/8. Close to
Mars and Jupiter 1/11.
Other data: Latest sunrise of 2018 8:11 a.m. 1/2. Perihelion (Earth
closest to sun for 2018) 10:35 p.m. 1/2 (147,097,238 km or 91,401,986
mi.). Annual Quadrantids meteor shower peaks 12:00 p.m. 1/3 (best views
in pre-dawn hours, but bright moon interferes).