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Your neck is going to hurt from looking up: Meteor showers, supermoon & SpaceX launch

It’s an exciting week in the night sky

Look up! There's a celestial show going on all month
Look up! There's a celestial show going on all month

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – It’s a busy week for space nerds! Luckily we’ll see clear skies most nights and can enjoy the show, it will even be cool in the evening by the end of the week making it extra pleasant. Let’s plan your evenings this week.

Tuesday night

The Eta Aquariid Meteor Shower peaks Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning. The cool factor with this meteor shower is that its leftover debris from Haley’s Comet passing by. This particular shower has a broad maximum (meaning it doesn’t peak on a certain night or time, it is more spread out) so meteors may be visible early this week.

The waxing gibbous moon will make seeing faint meteors difficult, however. Best viewing will when the Moon is low in the sky but before dawn between about 4:30 and 5:30 am local. This shower is generally not particularly bright. (As in not easily seen, not trying to insult the meteor shower’s intelligence.) You’d probably have to be out of the city lights to really enjoy it.

Wednesday night

In the newest, coolest of things you can gaze at in the night sky is the Starlink satellites. According to this website which tracks when they might be visible in your area, (it’s not perfect, this is an emerging science.) We should have good visibility to see Starlink 5 satellites at 9:34 pm Wednesday night. For the best chance to catch a glimpse of this cool sight, it should last for 6 mins, look from NORTHWEST to SOUTH ( details ) Elevation (from horizon): start: 10 °, max: 65 °, end: 61 °

Thursday

SpaceX Launch

*** Just got work this launch has been delayed, we will update when the new launch date is announced***

Start your day off right with a SpaceX launch! A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket is expected to launch the seventh batch of Starlink broadband network satellites at 7:30 a.m. These launches offer not only the cool factor of a rocket launch, but the Starlink satellites themselves put on quite the show once they get into orbit. When they pass overhead, it looks like a string of lights traveling in a row across the sky, which prompts quite a few UFO/Alien calls to the newsroom.

Click here to check out how they look and what to expect when the Starlink satellites pass over...

The prior SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket deployed 60 of the Starlink satellites, below is a video of one of the satellites being deployed.

Assuming the launch is a go, that will make the total number of Starlink satellites orbiting over us 480.

The moon

Its Supermoon time! With clear skies and cool temperatures too?!? Yes please! According to NASA, this full moon is the full flower moon. It’s also known as the Flower Moon, Corn Planting Moon, Milk Moon, the Vesak Festival Moon and a supermoon.

Want to incorporate learning about the moon in your child’s distance learning? Here’s a great resource from NASA for kids to learn about the moon

A supermoon occurs when the moon’s orbit is closest (perigee) to Earth at the same time it is full. So what's so special about a supermoon? Turns out, it's a bit more subtle than it sounds—but for the interested observer, there's plenty to see and learn.

  • The Moon orbits Earth in an ellipse, an oval that brings it closer to and farther from Earth as it goes around.
  • The farthest point in this ellipse is called the apogee and is about 253,000 miles (405,500 kilometers) from Earth on average.
  • Its closest point is the perigee, which is an average distance of about 226,000 miles (363,300 kilometers) from Earth.
  • When a full moon appears at perigee it is slightly brighter and larger than a regular full moon—and that’s where we get a "supermoon.

This is the last in a series of four supermoons. The term “supermoon” was coined by the astrologer Richard Nolle in 1979 and refers to either a new or full Moon that occurs within 90% of perigee, its closest approach to Earth in a given orbit. Under this definition, in a typical year there can be three or four full supermoons in a row and three or four new supermoons in a row. For 2020, the four full Moons from February through May meet this 90% threshold.

This is how much bigger and brighter the moon looks when it's a super moon
This is how much bigger and brighter the moon looks when it's a super moon

Thursday night’s supermoon will be the final supermoon of 2020, the last of 4 consecutive supermoons. Why do they tend to happen in groups of fours? This article explains

  • 4 supermoons during 2020: 02/09, 03/09, 04/07, 05/07
  • 4 supermoons during 2021: 03/28, 04/26, 05/26, 06/24

Other celestial excitement on Thursday night includes the three planets Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will appear in the southeastern sky at the time morning twilight begins. The brightest of the three, Jupiter, will appear in the south-southeast at about 28 degrees above the horizon. The dimmest of the three, Saturn, will appear about 5 degrees to the left of Jupiter. Mars, slightly brighter than Saturn, will appear in the southeast at about 22 degrees above the horizon. The bright star appearing nearly directly overhead will be Vega, one of the three stars in the “Summer Triangle.” As the lunar cycle progresses, Jupiter, Saturn and the background of stars will appear to shift toward the west, while Mars will appear to shift more slowly.

Lyrid meteor shower

The Eta Lyrid Meteor Shower peaks Thursday evening into Friday morning, fed by debris left by comet 1861 G1 Thatcher which last passed by in 1861. This particular shower has a broad maximum so meteors may be visible early this week. Only 10-20 meteors under the BEST conditions but the nearly full moon will make even that very difficult. This one would be impossible to see within the city’s light pollution but could be cool in rural areas with no lights. This meteor shower is neat because meteor activity appears to emanate from the general area of the constellation Lyra, which is how it was named.

Next week

Next week doesn’t stink, but this week is a hard act to follow. Here’s what we will be gazing up at next week: Jupiter and Saturn will line up with the waning gibbous moon before it moves under Mars later in the week.


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