UPDATE 9 Jan 2020 9:55 a.m. CST: The recent third Space-X launch of Starlink satellites are not easily visible from Manitoba. The satellites from the second launch are spreading out and are widely separated in the sky, and getting fainter as lighting conditions change. Hopefully this will put an end to the emails about UFO’s we’ve been receiving!
MANITOBA SKIES – January 2020
Contributed by Austin Valentin, Science Communicator
January is an exciting month for astronomy, particularly historically as a “science changing” discovery was made. An Italian scientist, Galileo Galilei, was famous for studying astronomy and physics. Sometimes referred to as the “father of observational astronomy”, he would turn his small telescope to the skies, and what he observed changed how we look at the cosmos in modern times. Born on February 15th, 1564, Galileo studied concepts such as speed, velocity, gravity, relativity, inertia, projectile motion, and the concept of the free fall in space. Modern scientists such as Stephen Hawking and Albert Einstein often hailed Galileo as the reason we study science the way we do today, as Galileo bears much of the responsibility for the birth of modern science.
On January the 7th, 1610 Galileo wrote a letter regarding his observations of Jupiter. He observed four celestial bodies, which he initially thought could be stars behind the planet. After more observation, he realized that he was observing four satellites orbiting the planet. These four moons which were ultimately named Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Calisto, were the first objects found to orbit a planet other than the Moon orbiting the Earth. These four very large moons are known today as the Galilean Moons. The telescope Galileo used to view these four large moons, was a telescope he designed himself. Using a lens (rather than a mirror, like we see in telescopes today), he refracted incoming light to magnify and focus images. Galileo’s telescope was very simple; a pair of high-powered binoculars today are likely comparable.
The scientific community owes a great debt to Galileo for his very significant discoveries and his contribution to our knowledge of the cosmos. Would we have eventually made these discoveries without him? Perhaps… However, Galileo is another reminder that with curiosity and the passion to discover, there are endless possibilities for us to learn and grow. Here at the Manitoba Museum, we encourage discovery and curiosity. In January, 2020, there are many opportunities for everyone to come to the Manitoba Museum and discover history and science for themselves. There are also many opportunities for people to look up into the skies for themselves and observe the very same sights as Galileo did over 400 years ago.
WINTER METEOR SHOWER
From January 3rd, to January 4th, 2020, the Earth will be passing through a particularly dusty region of its orbit. This will result in the ability to observe the Quadrantids Meteor Shower. The “shooting stars” that we observe in this meteor shower are thought to come from the leftover remains of an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1. The shower should peak on the night of January 3rd, and morning of January 4th, with up to 40 meteors per hour. Best visible after midnight and into the early morning hours of the 4th.
Mercury is too close to the Sun to be easily visible this month.
Venus will be visible shortly after sunset, very low in the southwestern sky. Unfortunately, it is only visible for roughly 90 minutes after the sun sets.
Mars will be visible in the southeastern sky at sunrise for the month of January. This is another very brief opportunity to observe the Red Planet, as your window to observe it is only between approximately 6 a.m. to 7 a.m. The Sun’s light will quickly become too bright and will drown out the view of Mars, so act fast!
Jupiter is too close to the Sun to be easily visible during the beginning of the month. Sharp-eyed observers might catch it just before dawn at the end of the month, but it will be rising higher as winter turns to spring.
Saturn spends the month lost in the Sun’s glare.
JANUARY 2020 SKY EVENTS
Thursday, Jan. 2: First Quarter Moon.
Saturday, Jan. 4 (morning sky): Peak of the annual Quadrantid meteor shower.
Monday, Jan. 6: scheduled launch of the third set of Starlink satellites, which create a line of stars moving in the sky (see update at top of page).
Friday, Jan 10: The regular meeting of Winnipeg’s astronomy club is at 7:00 p.m. in the Robert Schultz Lecture Theatre at St. John’s College (on the University of Manitoba’s Fort Garry campus). It’s also the night of the Full Moon. There is a penumbral eclipse of the Moon on this date as well, but it is not visible from Manitoba.
Friday, Jan. 17: Last Quarter Moon.
Monday, Jan. 20: Happy birthday to Apollo 11 astronaut Buzz Aldrin, who turns 90 today.
Friday, Jan. 24: New Moon.
Monday, Jan. 27 (evening sky): The thin crescent moon is below Venus in the evening sky, low in the southwest.
January 27th is also the 52nd anniversary of the Apollo 1 fire.
Tuesday, Jan. 28 (evening sky): The crescent moon is to Venus’ left in the evening sky, low in the southwest.
January 28th is also the 33rd anniversary of the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
Thursday, Jan. 30: Dark Matters event at the Planetarium. Explore the big questions of the universe with a custom planetarium show and a special presentation via live video by Dr. James Peebles, the Winnipeg-born astronomer recently awarded the 2019 Nobel Prize in Physics. Get your tickets now! Full details here.
The Starlink satellites have been in the news lately. They appear as a line of a dozen or more moving stars as they pass overhead. These are small satellites launched by Space-X to provide internet service. More than 40 satellites are launched in the same rocket, and so for the week or so after launch, all of the objects are grouped close together in the sky. In late December and early January, there were several good passes over Winnipeg that were widely reported. You can find predictions for Starlink passes over Winnipeg here. There is another launch scheduled for January 6th, and we’ll update this page if it turns out they are visible from Manitoba.
To see when the International Space Station passes over southern Manitoba, click here.
You can find times for other locations across Manitoba and throughout the world, as well as times for other orbiting objects, by visiting Heavens-above.com and entering your location here.