Holiday Stargazing - Winter Solstice - CLOSED

Holiday Stargazing - Winter Solstice - CLOSED

Frosty Drew Observatory
Friday December 21, 2018 Closed
$5 Suggested Donation per person 5 years and older

Today is the Winter Solstice and tonight is our Holiday Stargazing Spectacular. Sadly, mother nature is not sharing in our enthusiasm for a festive night out under the stars (and who can blame her, we really aren’t treating her with due respect). Tonight’s forecast is quite variable, though all variability is around how hard it will be raining. The overall forecast is calling for any combination of overcast conditions, t-storms, heavy rain, high winds, and fog. Sadly, this forecast will keep Frosty Drew Observatory closed tonight (second week consecutively). We will return to our regular Stargazing Nights event schedule on Friday, December 28, 2018 at 7:00 p.m., if weather can lay off the Friday night attacks.

Weekly Happenings
Scott MacNeill

Today is the Winter Solstice, which marks the start of all things winter. Take a moment this afternoon, around 5:23 p.m. to welcome the winter season. At that time, Earth will come to the point in our orbit around the Sun, where the Northern Hemisphere is orientated at maximum tilt (23.4°) away from the Sun. If you’re in the Northeast and are freaking out about the rain and dismal conditions, keep in mind that those residing north of the Arctic Circle are in continuous night as the Sun never fully rises above the horizon on and around the Winter Solstice. So find a cozy spot, a cup of holiday cheer, your favorite person or kitty, and welcome the most festive time of the year on this rainy Winter Solstice.

Tomorrow night (Saturday, December 22, 2018), the annual Ursid Meteor Shower will peak, usually bringing a meager increase in meteor activity by about 5 meteors per hour. Though this year Earth may be moving through a higher than average concentration of debris left behind by Comet 8P/Tuttle. This could result in a substantially higher rate of meteors. Don’t get too excited though, the Full Moon is also occurring tomorrow, which will certainly outshine our little Ursid outburst. If setting out, Ursid meteors will appear to radiate from the North Star, Polaris. Lay on your back with your feet to the south and look towards the zenith (top of the sky) to catch meteors shooting by.

Tomorrow, Saturday, December 22, 2018, a rather large Near Earth Asteroid (NEA) will pass by Earth at a close 1.8 million miles distant. The asteroid, 2003 SD220 is rather long and thin, spanning about 1 mile in diameter along its widest axis. NASA JPL describes the shape of the asteroid as “the exposed portion of a hippopotamus wading in a river”, think about that for a minute. Currently on the list of potentially hazardous NEAs, 2003 SD220’s close pass tomorrow has allowed for refinements in the known orbit of the asteroid, confirming no future impact threats to Earth. Check out the shape of this rocker

Remember that lil spacecraft that flew past dwarf planet Pluto at a distance of 7,800 miles in July 2015? That was the NASA New Horizons spacecraft, and since the fabulous Pluto flyby, the spacecraft has been traveling further into the Kuiper Belt. Well skip ahead 3.5 years and we are in the final approach of another Kuiper Belt Object (KBO), 2014 MU69, nicknamed Ultima Thule. On New Years Day 2019, the New Horizons spacecraft will fly past Ultima Thule at a distance of about 2,200 miles. Similar to the Pluto flyby, New Horizons will drop into Encounter Mode, which will allow the spacecraft to put all its resources into capturing images, measurements, and as many awesome pieces of science possible. At the distance that Ultima Thule is from Earth (4,034,300,000 miles), it takes about 6 hours for transmissions from New Horizons to reach Earth (and vice versa). So the first images of the KBO should be released on January 2, 2019. We will write more about the mission in next week’s newsletter as we close in on the super close flyby date. Until then, let’s project some positive thoughts out to New Horizons, which is so far from home.

Have a fabulous holiday, in the way that makes you the happiest, from all of the astro-geeks at Frosty Drew Observatory!


Image Credit: This week's image is Wishing Upon A Star by Caoimhe Aisling