Thursday, December 30, 2010

Celestial seed catalog

The New Year approaches, and as usual I am curled up with Guy Ottewell's annual Astronomical Calendar anticipating the celestial treats of 2011.

Let's start with the morning of New Year's Eve -- tomorrow -- when a thin crescent Moon will join Venus in the pre-dawn sky. And Mercury too, peeking over the horizon.

On February 6th, a waxing crescent Moon skims by Jupiter.

In April, Venus, Mercury, Mars and Jupiter snuggle together in the sunrise sky, but too close to the Sun to be easily visible. The Moon joins them on May 1. The winter months belong to Saturn, high in the sky all night long.

During May, the four morning planets do a dazzling dance of conjunctions in the pre-dawn sky, and we'll all be trying for a glimpse. Meanwhile, Saturn is in the opposite part of the sky, giving an almost alignment of all five naked-eye planets. Guy has a whole page devoted to this gathering.

Some experts are predicting an especially fine Draconid meteor shower on October 8.

All year long, we'll be looking for very young and very old Moon's with Guy's charts as a guide.

Two fine total lunar eclipses in 2011, but not for those of us in the eastern U.S. Mark in Fiji will have a nice show on December 10.

Four (!) partial eclipses of the Sun, mostly in polar regions of the globe, and none for North America.

Meteor showers, comets, occultations. Just a taste of the events Guy catalogs, with his usual gift for graphic presentation. If Guy didn't exist we'd have to invent him.

Expect a flood of internet spam about the "planetary alignment" early in the year, predicting catastrophes of every sort. The people who fan this sort of foolishness are probably the sort who would not be bothered to step out the back door to see the Moon and Venus blazing together in the morning sky.