Huestis: Astronomical Highlights for 2018

Saturday, December 30, 2017


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Last year on January 1 we were anxiously awaiting the Great American Total Solar Eclipse of August 21, then just 233 days away. It now seems so long ago, but I can still close my eyes and vividly recall the incredible view of two minutes and 35.9 seconds of totality from Adams, Tennessee. When the eclipse came to an end we were already talking about our potential plans for the April 7, 2024 total solar eclipse.

But before we jump too far ahead in our anticipation of future astronomical highlights, let’s examine what events are on our calendars for 2018. There will be three partial solar eclipses and two total lunar eclipses in 2018. Unfortunately, due to our location here in Southern New England we only get to observe some of the January 31 total lunar eclipse before the Moon sets. We will not see totality. The other four eclipses will not be visible from here at all.

On January 1 Mercury will be just a few degrees above the eastern horizon during dawn’s early light. Above and to the right will be Mars and Jupiter, which will be at their closest to one another (conjunction) on the morning of the sixth and seventh. Jupiter will be the brightest object, while Mars will be distinctively red. On the third at 12:34 a.m. the Earth is at perihelion (closest to the Sun) for 2018 at 91,401,983 miles. This might seem counterintuitive, but the northern hemisphere is titled away from the Sun at that time and we experience winter. On July 6 at 12:46pm the Earth will be at aphelion (farthest from the Sun) at 94,507,803 miles. This three million mile plus difference in the Earth’s elliptical orbit does not affect our global temperature.

I always look forward to the first major meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, which peak on the night of January 3-4. While it is usually quite cold to be lying outside in a lounge chair just to watch “burning rocks” fall from the sky, these blue shooting stars blaze across the sky at 25.5 miles per second. While 100 meteors per hour are possible, 60 or so is more realistic. So I think the effort is well worth the reward.

Unfortunately a waning gibbous Moon, full on the first, will overshadow all but the brightest of the Quadrantids. This Full Moon is also the closest full moon of 2018, so it will be called a Supermoon. Should skies be clear during the peak night you may still catch a bright meteor or two. The shooting stars appear to radiate from an area of sky not far from the end star, Alkaid, of the Big Dipper’s handle, but they can be seen anywhere in the sky.

The schedule of the other major meteor showers for 2018 appears in a table at the end of this column.

With a Full Moon on the first day of January and another on the 31st, the second one will be called a Blue Moon. The total lunar eclipse also occurs on the night of the Blue Moon. Here the partial phase will begin at moonset. Perhaps as the Moon nears the horizon a keen-eyed observer may notice a slight darkening of the lunar surface. The Moon will look “orangey” anyway due to its low elevation. Both full moons in January are Supermoons.

Just an FYI, a Blue Moon will also occur in March, and the smallest Full Moon, a Minimoon, will occur on July 27.

As the year progresses, Jupiter, Saturn and Mars will return to pre-midnight skies. Opposition (when a planet rises as the Sun sets) signals a good time for casual stargazers to observe these planets without losing any beauty sleep. Opposition dates are: Jupiter (May 9), Saturn (June 27), and Mars (July 27).

Mars is going to be the highlight of the year, for this opposition will be the best one since 2003. Mars’ oppositions occur about every 26 months. Oppositions coincide with a planet’s closest approach to the Earth. This year Mars is at its closest to us on the night of July 30-31 at a distance of only 35,785,537 miles.  As the year begins the Earth will be approaching Mars in our respective orbits until that date. With a telescope you’ll be able to observe the planet’s disk grow larger in size as the days progress. Throughout this period one will be able to discern much detail, including the planet’s South Polar Cap, since Mars’ South Polar Region will be tilted toward the Earth. After this close approach Earth’s faster orbital speed will quickly cause Mars to recede, getting smaller each day. However, we’ll have several months to explore this fascinating world.

Brilliant Venus will return to the evening sky after sunset at the beginning of March and will remain a beacon in the western sky through mid-September. Mercury joins Venus early in March, the two planets being very low above the western horizon after sunset. On March 18 a waxing crescent Moon will join the pair for a beautiful conjunction.

Saturn will still put on a very good show during 2018. Though the rings were titled open at a maximum of 27 degrees back in October, they will have closed up just slightly for 2018. If folks know this beautiful ringed world will be visible at the local observatories on a given night, one can expect a crowd to stand in line to view its exquisite appearance.

And finally, my Christmas list to Santa included a request for a bright naked-eye comet to grace the evening skies sometime in 2018.

In conclusion, please remember, weather permitting, the local observatories remain open during the winter months to share beautiful views of the heavens. Snow or ice can force closures, so please check the respective websites for any cancellation notices and observing schedules before venturing out for a visit. Seagrave Memorial Observatory in North Scituate is open every clear Saturday night. Ladd Observatory in Providence is open every clear Tuesday night. The Margaret M. Jacoby Observatory at the CCRI Knight Campus in Warwick is open every clear Thursday night. Frosty Drew Observatory in Charlestown is open every clear Friday night.

Some of the topics highlighted in this column may be covered in depth as an event date approaches.

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Keep your eyes to the skies for 2018 and always.

Happy New Year!   


Related Slideshow: 25 Things You Must Do in New England This Winter - 2017

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Ice Skating at Newport Skating Center

Newport, RI 

Whether you are skating on a pond or at one of the many ice rinks across the region like the Newport Skating Center in the heart of Newport.

The skating center provides a full schedule of activities to carry you through the winter including adult and kids skating sessions as well as activities for the entire family. 

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Snowmobile at the Tall Timber Lodge 

Pittsburg, New Hampshire

For snowmobiling enthusiasts, Pittsburg, New Hampshire might be the snowmobiling capital of New England with more than 200 trails, all filled with great adventures. 

The Tall Timber Lodge offers a variety of packages that include rentals, dinners, lodging and much more. If you need a break from the trails, the lodge also consists of a spa. 

PHOTO: Paul Williams

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Dog Sled Tours at Ultimate Dog Sledding Experience

Oxford, Maine

Embrace the call of the wind and go up to New England Dog Sledding for dog sled tours. Tours are pulled by trained and "friendly" Husky sled dogs and are offered throughout the area.

Ultimate Dog Sledding is located just 40 minutes from Portland. 



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Get Out of the Cold and Into the Water at CoCo Key Boston

Danvers, MA

Get out of the cold and into the water at CoCo Key's 65,000 sq. ft. indoor water park in Danvers. 

The park includes multiple water slides, tube rides, pools and so much more to take your mind off of winter, at least for a little while. 

For those who might need a break from the water, there is an arcade with games for all ages. 


PHOTO: Coco Key Facebook

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Sled Down Neutaconkanut Hill

Providence, RI 

Neutaconkanut Hill has some of the best slopes for sledding in the state. 

Bundle up, hold on, and enjoy the ride. 

In addition to the sledding slopes, snowshoeing and cross-country skiing are offered at this legendary Providence slope.

For more great places to sled, check out GoLocalProv's latest list. 

PHOTO: Popofatticus/Flickr

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Ice Climbing With Adventure Spirit 

Burlington, Vermont

For the adventurous out there, Adventure Spirit in Vermont is your place for ice climbing. Choose from climbing at Bolton Quarry, Bristol Cliffs or even Smuggler's Notch to be lead by one of their experienced instructors.

Be prepared to spend your day strenuously climbing some of nature's frozen streams and flow offs. They also offer alpine climbing and outdoor rock climbing for those who wish to fully test their limits.


PHOTO: Adventure Spirit

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Providence Restaurant Weeks

Providence, RI 

Providence Restaurant Weeks will take place from January 14 to January 27, 2018, with nearly 100 restaurants participating. Enjoy three-course lunches at $16.95 and three-course dinners at $29.95 or $34.95, as well as two-for-one specials.

Restaurants include Capriccio, Milk Money and many more. 

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Jump Around at Launch Trampoline Park 

RI, MA or CT

Need to get some energy out? or get the energy out of your kids? Head to Launch Trampoline Park. They have a park in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. 

With dodgeball, basketball, foam pits and more, indoor trampoline parks have something to offer people of all ages. Whether you want to bring a group of children for the day or sign up a group of adults for some "xtreme" dodgeball, trampoline parks can be a great change of pace and a fun way to try something new.

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Newport Winter Festival 

Newport, RI 

The 2017 Newport Winter Festival is set to be held from February 16-25. 

The festival features live music, food, games, a chili cook-off and so much more over a span of nine days. 

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Indoor Rock Climbing

RI, MA or NH

Do you need a new challenge this winter? Try one of New England's indoor rock climbing gyms. Whether you choose Rock Spot Climbing in Rhode Island, Carabiner's in Massachusetts, or Vertical Dreams in New Hampshire, rock climbing is a fun and challenging way to get some exercise without running on treadmills.

Photo courtesy of Rock Spot Climbing

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New England Pond Hockey Classic 

Merideth, New Hampshire 

You have never seen hockey like this. 

The 8th annual New England Pond Hockey Classic kicks off on February 2 with final team rosters due on January 20. Get your team together and head up to New Hampshire. 

If you can't make it up, grab the skates and find your local pond and play hockey anyway. BE SAFE of course. 

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Curling at Ocean State Curling Club 

Cranston RI

You watch curling in the Olympics every year and you love it. So try it this winter. 

The Ocean State Curling Club has your curling fix. Hosting events and tournaments or "bonspiels" at the Veteran’s Memorial Ice Rink in Cranston, RI, the Ocean State Curling Club is a "social club for anyone interested in recreational curling." The club also offers lessons for those who want to learn the sport. 

Photo: dave/Flickr

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Ice Fishing

Across New England

It's practically a tradition for a lot of people, but ice fishing is an interesting winter experience. Head out to the ponds and see what you can get. 

But be safe, it takes 4-6 inches of ice to support a person and 8-10 inches to support a vehicle.

Photo courtesy of Dushan Hanuska/flickr

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Get the House Organized 

The weather isn't great, it's freezing outside. Winter presents a great opportunity to get the house organized. It's not the most fun thing in the world of course, but it will pay off and at the end of it, you will be glad you did it. 

Here are some ways to get organized this winter. 

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Go Snowshoeing at Wachusett Mountain

Leominster, MA

For those who can't ski or snowboard, snowshoeing is another way to get around in the snow. Wachusett Mountain is the perfect place for snowshoeing.  


PHOTO: Matt, just Matt

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See the Lights at La Salette Shrine

Attleborough MA

By far one of the coolest lighting displays you will see anywhere in New England and maybe even the country. 

The Festival of Lights runs from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. every night until January 1. 

Do not miss out! 

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Sing-a-Long with the Boston Pops at Symphony Hall

301 Massachusetts Avenue, Boston, MA

Held at Symphony Hall, the Boston Pops holiday concert is filled with food, sing-a-longs and a visit from the one and only Santa Claus!

Have some holiday cookies as the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays holiday classics for you and your family.

The seven kids afternoon shows include post-concert photos with Santa as well as special treats. 

The concert runs until December 31. 

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Give to the Community

While the winter holidays are generally the biggest volunteer days of the year, any day of the year is a great time to give to organizations or people in need.

Items like food, clothes, and blankets are just some of the things that are needed most this time of year. 

See Ways to Give in RI by Clicking Here. 

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First Night Hartford New Years Eve Celebration 

Hartford, Connecticut 

Join First Night Hartford for its 29th year of celebration! The multi-venue event will include performances by aerialists, Circophony Youth Circus, the Connecticut Academy of Irish Music, and Crafts and tours at Bulter McCook House. 

Don’t forget to stay for the fireworks starting promptly at 6 p.m. with a second showing at midnight to ring in the New Year!

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 Zip Line

Mount Washington, Bretton Woods New Hampshire

Soar down Mount Washington on a series of tree-top zip lines! The Canopy Tour is lead by one of Bretton Woods Adventure Guides as they describe the native fauna and flora. You'll descend over 1000 feet of elevation on this 3-hour tour. Each tour guide can take a group of up to 8, so grab some friends and zip down the mountain!

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Cross Country Skiing

East Bay Bike Path, Bristol to Providence RI 

Grab your poles and skis and head down to the East Bay Bike Path for some Cross Country Skiing. Of course, you can go cross-country skiing anywhere there is snow and some flat land, but the East Bay Bike Path stretches about 14 miles from Bristol to India Point Park in Providence. 

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Ride the Polar Express

Woonsocket, Rhode Island 

Buy your ticket now for the Black Stone Valley Polar Express! Watch the popular book and film come to life before your eyes as you take a 90-minute train ride with Santa and the Conductor.

Rides will be available every Friday through Sunday with the final stop on December 23. There will be light refreshments and cookies made available, children are encouraged to wear pajamas.

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 Take a Nature Walk at Squam Lakes

Holderness, New Hampshire

Squam Lakes Natural Science Center in Holderness, NH offers a wide arrange of guided tours of live animal trails. A staff naturalist leads and teaches groups how certain animals are adapted to the winter climate in New Hampshire. The guided tours are run on weekends and can be a great way to experience and learn more about nature in New England.

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Paint and Vino 

Pawtucket, RI

Forget about winter by painting a picture of a tropical sunset at Paint and Vino, Rhode Island's first paint and wine studio. Bring children for family paint events and parties, or leave them at home to enjoy complimentary "adult beverages" as you paint.

Perfect for date night, girls night out or a fun Friday night, Paint and Vino's classes run for 2 1/2 to 3 hours and a spot must be reserved.

Photo: Yelp Inc./Flickr

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Snow Tubing at Ski Ward

1000 Main Street, Shrewsbury, MA

Sledding, skiing or snowboarding not for you? Grab a tube and enjoy the ride down one of the many hills at the Ski Ward.  

Don't forget to take the whole family out to Slopeside Bar and Grill after a long day in the snow. 


PHOTO: Flickr


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