Quadrantids Meteor Shower Kicks off the New Year; Moon Plays Spoilsport

Another meteor shower is upon us. The Quadrantids are all set to blaze across the night sky. The only problem? The bright Moon!

The elusive Quadrantids

The full moon day happened only a few days back on the 28th of December and the moon is in its gibbous phase. They start off this year’s journey for meteor hunters and are known for intense and numerous. The maximum is a short intense one which lasts for something like an hour or so. After that you’ll find practically zero meteors. After the incredible Geminids a few days back, you might have trouble believing that meteor shower maxima can be so very short!

The location of the Quadrantids

The Quadrantids are named after the constellation Quadrans Muralis, which is now an obsolete constellation. So, in terms of the modern constellations, it’s near the head of Draco, the snake or the arm of the Big Dipper, if you prefer

The meteor shower will peak late tonight and continue on till the morning of 3rd January. But being the intense peak, if you’re late – or looking the other way – you’ll miss it.

The chances of missing it are really high, unfortunately. The moon will be bright and it being winter in the northern latitudes, the fog is expected to play major spoilsport. And since, the peak is late at night, when the fog formation is the strongest, you’ll definitely need to be insanely lucky.

In North America, the peak is expected to be at about 2-3 AM at about 30 degrees from the horizon on the east. As you go to the east, the morning comes earlier and the sky grows brighter when the peak actually arrives, making it hard to see the meteors.

No wonder Quadrantids are not as popular as the Geminids or the Perseids.

Best of luck.

Fireworks in the Sky: New Meteor Shower to Add to the Geminids Spectacle?

With the splendor of the Geminids, there may be an additional bonus this time around! NASA news reports that along with the debris of the 3200 Phaethon, which causes the Geminids meteor shower, there may be another comet – Comet Wirtanen – which can make a significant contribution to the already divine cosmic spectacle.

See our Geminids coverage: http://techie-buzz.com/science/geminids-2012.html

Comet Wirtanen is a relatively recent discovery, discovered only in 1948. It orbits the sun in 5.4 years in a tight enough orbit. The Earth has just not run into the debris left in the wake of the comet passage. Yet!

NASA predicts that 2012 may be different. Remember, maybe! The Earth may be crossing the stream of debris any time between 10th to the 14th of December, coinciding brilliantly with the Geminids meteor shower.

If it happens…

The Wirtanen meteor shower will start early evening, right after sunset. So early evening, you can rendezvous with the Wirtanen, while the Geminids switch on later on! The radiant – or the point in the sky where the meteor shower is supposed to radiate from – will be in the Pisces constellation. That is if the Wirtanen shower happens at all!

If this happens – and this will happen only for the first time – the meteor shower may be christened ‘Piscids’, since it will originate from the Pisces constellation. The Pisces lie just south of the Pegasus constellation, which is easy enough to identify. The Pegasus comprises of four bright stars, arranged in a roughly squarish fashion. Though it may be easy to identify, the Pisces might be difficult to spot from a not-so-dark location, as the stars are pretty dim.

The to-be Piscids are expected to be moving slowly. We have no idea about the frequency as this will be the first time we’ll be seeing them. The same can be said about the brightness.

This weekend is a treat for all sky watching enthusiasts. Even if the Piscids prove to be a no-show, there will always be the Geminids to fall back on.

Once again, best of luck and happy sky watching.

The Ultimate Guide: Geminids Meteor Shower to Light Up Skies in Two Days!

The Geminids are all set to make up for the disappointment of the Leonids. The Geminids peak on the night of 13th December and are expected to come to their full glory at about 2 AM on the 14th of December. All of this should fire you up to consider a trip away from the city lights and into the wilderness for a night of pristine sky watching.

The Geminids also luckily coincide with the New Moon this time, meaning that the absence of the moon will render these streaks of light the brightest object in the night sky. The Geminids are known for slow, bright and graceful meteors and a pretty high frequency. This time the expected frequency is one of the all-time highs of 120 – 140 meteors per hour – that’s more than 2 per minute!

The Geminids

While the Leonids are known for fast bright streaks, the Geminids will be much more relaxed! They travel at about half the speed of the Leonids, but have a higher percentage of faint meteors. But fret not, the Geminids have a high shower rate so that shouldn’t be a problem.

The Geminids, as the name suggests, stream out from the Gemini constellation, the so-called ‘radiant’. The Geminids are nearby the distinct Orion constellation. So it shouldn’t be difficult to spot. The Royal Astronomical Society predicts that the peak will occur at about 8 PM EST on the 13th. That means that in India, you are going to have the peak at about 11:30 PM IST. That is great news as you might be able to catch the extravagantly high 120+ meteors per hour shower rate. If you miss out on this peak, don’t worry – slightly reduced rates of about 60 meteors per hour are going to continue for about 8 hours even after the peak!

Take precautions

If you’re indeed going to leave the comfort of the city and venture into dark wilderness to watch the spectacle, I suggest you do take proper precautions. Make sure you have warm clothes, if you’re in the Northern Hemisphere. You’ll be surprised to find out how fast the temperature drops as you drive out of the pollution cover of the city. Remember, you cannot light any camp fires, since you won’t want to spoil your night vision.

Happy meteor watching.

Don’t Miss Out On The Spectacular Perseids Meteor Shower Tomorrow Night!

Get ready sky watchers, the Perseids are coming! The bright and mighty meteor showers, known as the Perseids, are all set to light up the night sky with their flickers of bright light. The name comes from the constellation they seem to originate from – Perseus.

Perseids – captured on a long exposure shot.

The Peak of the Shower: Timing

The peak of the shower falls on the nights of 11/12th of August (tomorrow night). The peak, being a slightly broad one, will also cross into the 13th. The showers will last till the 24th of the month, but if you miss the peak, there is no point in hunting out the faint trails later on. Simple advice: Don’t miss it tomorrow!

The showers will be visible through the night. You might want to catch up with them late evening and spend your time with them till night falls. The late moonrise will help ramp up the grandeur of the spectacle.

The Moon

The moon rises at about 1:30 AM on these two days and by the time the moon reaches anywhere near the zenith, it will be nearly predawn and you’d already be feeling sleepy. The moonrise on the 13th of the month happens at about 2:30 AM and, by that time, the peak of the shower will already have passed. Moreover, the bright planet, Venus and Jupiter, will be close to the moon, so they won’t spoil your view either.

The Origin of the Perseids

The Perseids happen because of the comet Swift-Tuttle. Meteor showers happen when the Earth passes through a path of debris left behind by a comet which has just passed through that region. The debris then fall through the Earth’s atmosphere, burning up in the process and creating the brilliant flickers that we see.

When the Earth moves into one of the ‘debris zones’, the meteor shower can happen.

Now, of course, as the years go by, the intensity decreases, because the comet’s orbital period around the sun is way longer than the Earth’s. The next time Swift-Tuttle visits out neck of the woods, it will be in the year 2126. Don’t try to hold your breath that long.

Location Location Location

Choose a location away from the city, if you can. The lesser the light around you and the lesser the fog/smoke in the surrounding atmosphere, the better it is. Of course, all of this means that the nights will get really chilly. Make sure you have a proper blanket, coat and mattress. Spraining your neck is not such a great idea, and thus, reclining against a soft is definitely a good idea.

And Photos

The shutterbugs will definitely want to get their shots and it will be a good idea to go for long-exposure shots. Patience to make multiple attempts is the key; photo contrast is king!

Happy shooting star gazing!

Last year – Perseids 2011: http://techie-buzz.com/science/perseid-meteor-shower.html

The All-You-Need-To-Know-And-More Guide To The Venus Transit on June 5/6

It’s really an eclipse, but not quite. When Venus moves across the disc of the Sun on the 5th/6th of June, you’ll be witnessing history – and be able to realize how lucky you really are! In this article, I plan to provide you with everything you need to know in order to watch the transit and also appreciate the significance of this cosmic event!

A time-lapse photo of the 2004 transit

Basic Facts

Here’s the deal: Venus will be making its way around the Sun like normal, but this time, we will be behind it to observe. We will be seeing Venus move across the Solar Disc through nearly 7 hours. The last transit happened in 2004 and this one is occuring faithfully after 8 years. The next one will, however, occur after 105 more years – in 2117!

Venus Transit (Courtesy: GSFC/NASA)

So this is your last chance to see a Venus transit! Yes, there are many questions that you suddenly have in your mind right now, and I will try and answer all of them as we go along in this article.

Location Location!

The event will not be visible all over the world. There will be parts of the world, like Western part of Africa and Eastern part of South America, which will just miss the event completely. Sorry Brazil and Argentina. That said, the good news is that large parts of the world will definitely see the event.

Visible or not? Check for your location


Date: 6th June

The whole event
East Asia will be lucky to witness the whole nearly-7 hour event! By the time Venus enters the disc of the Sun, it will already be sunrise in these regions. Venus will exit the solar disc before sunset.
From sunrise till end
India and countries to the west of India, like Pakistan, Afghanistan and the entire Gulf region, will miss the start of the transit. Almost the entire Indian subcontinent will see the transit 3 hours after it starts. That’s no reason to fret, however; the transit will still be pretty long!


Date: 6th June

From event start till sunset
Most of Europe will be seeing the last part of the event. Venus will already have entered the solar disc by the time the sun rises and then it will exit before sunset. The unfortunate countries will be Spain and Portugal. While Spain will be getting a small last bit of the transit pie, Portugal will miss out on the event completely, as Venus will be just touching the solar disc at sunset.

North America

Date: 5th June

From Event start till Sunset
The event actually occurs when the date is 5th June, owing to its position on the other side of the International Date Line. So Venus will just touch the Sun’s disc at some point in the day. The transit will be visible till the Sun sets. Venus will still be within the Solar disc at sunset.
If you’re in Alaska for some reason, you might not be able to see Russia, but will definitely get to witness the whole transit.

South America

Date: 5th June
If you’re anywhere on this continent, you have really bad luck! Only the north-western parts of the continent will get to see any transit. That too, it won’t be for too long!

Annular Solar Eclipse On May 20th To Miss Most of the Globe

There is good news and there is bad news. The good news is that there will be an annular solar eclipse on the 20th of May. The bad news is that more than 80% of the world’s population is going to miss it. The Solar Eclipse, dubbed the ‘Ring of Fire Eclipse’ for reasons which will be clear in a bit, will be visible in its true spectacular glory on the western coast of the United States.

Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons

The Greatest Eclipse

The eclipse will only be visible from a small stretch of the earth’s surface, and even that is covered mostly by oceans. The place of Greatest Eclipse (GE) occurs bang in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, with no visible atolls nearby.


There is good news for US residents on the Western half of the country. The solar eclipse will track through the middle of California, south of Oregon, through most of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico. Only partial eclipse will be seen on the eastern part of New Mexico. Texas will have to be satisfied with a short partial eclipse. The path traces out the Northern part of the Pacific Ring of Fire and thus the name.


Across the Pacific, on the Asian shores, Japan will be lucky to be able to witness the spectacle and so will be the western shores of China.

Making all of this much easier to track is NASA’s awesome interactive Google Earth Map. Here is a screenshot of the Map.

Here is the interactive map in all its glory: http://eclipse.gsfc.nasa.gov/SEgoogle/SEgoogle2001/SE2012May20Agoogle.html


Lunar Alert: Supermoon To Be Spectacular This Week; Too Bad For The Meteor Shower

The moon will go ‘super’ this weekend, but that will mean bad news for the meteor shower watchers. The Supermoon, or the year’s biggest full moon, will delight all on 5th of May, 2012, starting from 2335 EST (or 0335 GMT on May 6th). Even though the moon will be at its biggest for just a few hours, the full moon will appear to last for a full three days starting on 4th May till 6th May.

Killed by the light

Unfortunately, the bright moon will wipe out the faint Eta Aquarids, the meteor shower from the debris of the Halley comet. However, given that the Eta Aquarids register at a high count of 60 meteors per hour, one shouldn’t lose all hope. Let’s just say that it won’t be seen in its usual self. Meteor shower enthusiasts will agree that the Aquarids are not really that bad a miss.

The Supermoon happens at the full moon when the moon is closest to the Earth. The 2011 Supermoon was spectacular – the moon won’t be that close to the Earth in another 18 years. This year’s Supermoon won’t be that great, but it will still be quite a sight, with the Moon appearing 14% bigger and 28% brighter than usual full moon nights.

Capturing it on film!

The Moon

Photo enthusiasts interested in sky watching should definitely aim at photographing the Supermoon. Last year’s was a bumper catch and this time too people are optimistic. A tripod is not necessary, as you’ll require really small exposure time for the moon, but getting to a place with a clear sky will definitely mean a lot for the clarity of the photo. Unlike other night photos, you will be well-advised to keep the ISO of your camera sensor low.

The Meteors

And as for the Eta Aquarids, we aren’t very optimistic, especially if you were planning to photograph them. Living in the Southern Hemisphere will give you a slight advantage and you’ll be lucky to see a few good and bright streaks. The fact that you won’t be able keep your camera shutter open for most of the area in the sky, due to the bright moon, will not help your cause. Sorry…

Though this might seem early, do plan on having a great lunatic weekend everyone.

Brief And Intense Meteor Shower To Set Sky Ablaze On Morning of 4th Jan.

Cosmic fireworks are all set to light up the night sky in the early hours of 4th Jan, 2012. A little known meteor shower, the Quadrantids, will set the sky ablaze during a brief, but intense meteor shower. Unfortunately, only Northern Hemisphere residents will be able to see the shower. The peak will be at about 3 AM EST in the morning. With the moon setting at about this time, skywatchers will be able to get a great view! The frequency of the showers is expected to cross 100 per hour for a very brief duration.

Streaks from the Quadrantid, taken from Alberta Canada (Courtesy: National Geographic)

Where to Look

The Quadrantids are named after an extinct constellation, Quadrans Muralis. It will be hedged in between the Draco constellation to the North, the Big Dipper and the Arcturus constellation further east. It will be close to the Pole Star, so if you can identify that you’ll be home dry! You can alternatively get a compass to point North and that’ll do it too!

The Location of the radiant in the sky (Courtesy: www.meteorshowersonline.com)

The showers will be visible best to the residents in the higher latitudes. North Americans and Canadians will be getting a brilliant view. The Quadrantids have been known to clock counts at even 200 per hour. However, the window of opportunity is really small about a matter of a few hours and only on one day. This is in contrast with the more famous Geminids and the Perseids, which can be seen for days.

Happy sky watching.

Stunning Images From Across The World Of The Total Lunar Eclipse, December 2011

Every cosmic spectacle presents some stunning images and yesterday’s Lunar Eclipse was no different. Many people in the Indian sub-continent were left satisfied this time around, after the June eclipse (awesome pics here) was obscured by heavy cloud cover, leaving eclipse enthusiasts disheartened. We bring to you few photos from around the world.

Show Starter!

Here is one of the earliest photos, circulated by Reuters, which shows the earliest phases of the eclipse.

The show starts off! (Courtesy: Reuters)

Blood Red and Brilliant

Here’s a brilliant one taken by David Prosper. This is just one of the many he took from his backyard in Oakland, California.

Taken by David Prosper from his backyard in Oakland, California. (Courtesy: David Prosper)

Here’s a close-up of the moon, by now just an orange ghostly image. This one was taken by Charles R. Jones, who is a skywatcher. This is from Phoenix, Arizona.

Photo taken by Charles Jones from Arizona. (Courtesy: Charles Jones)

This next one is an absolute beauty. It was taken at the Turret Arch at Arches National Park near Moab, Utah. The photo is taken from Hungeree, which has a few other gems in their kitty too.

This stunner was taken at Turret Arch at Arches National Park. (Courtesy: Hungeree.com)

The Final Goodbye and Hello Once again!

This one is by Kendra Lakkees, showing the end of the totality phase of the eclipse.

Nearing the end of the eclipse. Taken by Kendra Lakkees. (Courtesy: Kendra Lakkees)

The last one is the end of the eclipse. Taken by yours truly, from Kolkata, India, this closes the article.

Taken by the author of this article, this one is at the fag end of the eclipse. Location: Kolkata, India.

Hope you enjoyed. The next lunar eclipse is a long time away.

Cosmic Spectacle: Leonid Meteor Shower To Light Up Sky Tonight

The Leonids are upon us and that means that you should cancel all your plans and just stare towards the heavens tonight. On the night of 17th November (i.e between 17th and 18th), the Leonids are going to peak in intensity and we intend to give you every piece of information you need to know about them.

Leonids are seen when the Earth moves into the trail of the comet Temple-Tuttle. They are called Leonids, since their radiant (i.e. the point in the sky from where they appear to radiate’ out) lies in the constellation of Leo. This is generally the procedure followed for naming meteor showers.

The radiant for the Leonids (Image Courtesy: ESA)

The peak this year is right on schedule and will be on 17th November. However, don’t despair if you miss it tonight. The meteor peak doesn’t fall off too sharply and you will be able to catch some streaks the day after as well, but obviously the rate will reduce.

The Leonids are one of the most prolific meteor showers known. They are also very capricious in their counts per hour. Leonids have been known to exceed 1000 streaks an hour and that becomes a scene you cannot possibly afford to miss. One such shower happened in the year 1966 and again as recently as 1999.

Details you need to know

Peak of the shower

Now for some bad news. The peak of the shower will happen at about 10 PM EST, when the radiant will be either near the horizon or below it for most places around the globe experiencing nighttime. In the US, the radiant will poke above the horizon at about 1 AM, but light pollution from the horizon can severely restrict the number of meteors you see, as many are very faint.

Avoid light pollution

We suggest that you try and go to a place which has as little light pollution as possible. Go out of the city, if possible. We recommend that you like comfortably on your back and don’t hurry things. The meteors are fickle-minded objects and there may be no sign of them for several minutes, may be even an hour. However, they will come in bunches, as the Leonids are reputed to do. Then they will relent again and not appear for quite some time. This effect will be more pronounced, if your view is blurred by smog as most of the streaks will be quite faint.

The Leonids (Courtesy: Mr. Kwown O Chul and www.astrokorea.com)
Photographing the shower

For enthusiastic photographers, here’s a quick tip. Try exposures of 5 to 10 minutes and, thus, you’ll need a tripod. Try to get as far away from the moon as possible and you should have no problems doing that here. If you’re lucky, you’ll get brilliant streaks, roughly perpendicular to the trails made by stars in the sky (photo above).

Remember that the time to watch out for is at about 12:30 AM to 1:00 AM. Happy skywatching.