By Kelly Kizer Whitt
Astronomical observers will find lots of reasons to mark their calendar in 2018. Two supermoons, two blue moons, five planets at opposition, three meteor showers that could produce more than 100 falling stars an hour, and at least one comet all occur in the year ahead, guaranteeing that you'll have something up above to get excited about each month this year.
Super Moons and Blue Moons
2018 has two supermoons, and they're packed into the first month of the year. A supermoon is a full moon that occurs around the time of perigee, the closest point in the moon's orbit around Earth. On Jan. 1 for North America (Jan. 2 in the Eastern Hemisphere) the supermoon has the closest perigee of the year, when it is a scant 356,565 kilometers away. The moon is back in perigee on Jan. 30 at a distance of 359,000 kilometers. The full moon early the next morning on Jan. 31 is both a Blue Moon and a supermoon, which will undergo a Total Lunar Eclipse as it sets in North America in the hours before dawn.
With a full moon at the beginning and end of January, the short month of February will have no full moon at all, a circumstance sometimes referred to as a black moon. March will also have two full moons, one on March 1 or 2 (depending on where you live) and one on March 31. Therefore, March 31 will have the second blue moon of the year. This phenomenon of two full moons in January and March with a black moon in February occurs every 20 years.
Meteor showers are regular annual events that take place as Earth plows into debris left behind by comets and asteroids that have crossed our orbit. The strongest meteor showers of the coming year are the Quadrantids on Jan. 3/4, the Perseids on Aug. 11/12, and the Geminids on Dec. 13/14. Each of these showers has been known to produce up to 100 meteors or more an hour at their peak of activity.
Planets at Opposition
Planets reach what is called opposition when they are opposite the sun in our sky. When this happens, they rise as the sun sets and cross the sky all night, setting as the sun rises. The window of time in the weeks before and after opposition is great for viewing these planets. Jupiter is at opposition on May 9, Saturn on June 27 and Mars on July 27.
Neptune reaches opposition on Sept. 7 and Uranus does on Oct. 24, but because they are dimmer and require optical aid to see them, they may be harder to spot.
It will be easier to see them when they get close to brighter planets. This occurs for each planet in 2018, but the timing is less than ideal—around sunset when the glow of the recently set sun may make it difficult to see the dimmer planets. On March 28, Venus and Uranus are four arcminutes apart by the western horizon after sunset. Through binoculars or a telescope, Uranus appears as the faint point of light in the same field of view as brilliant Venus. On Dec. 6 and 7, Mars and Neptune are also just four arcminutes apart. On Dec. 6 look for Mars with binoculars or a telescope and you may see the tiny blue disk of Neptune nearby. On Dec. 7 they are still close but a few intervening stars may make it hard to identify Neptune.
While new comets can crop up at any time, one periodic comet is returning on a scheduled visit and will be within view through binoculars, or possibly to the naked-eye, at the end of 2018. Comet 46P/Wirtanen will be at least within binocular range around Thanksgiving, rising in the southeast in the mid-evening sky. Every day after, the comet will rise slightly higher in the sky, passing through some lesser known constellations such as Fornax, Cetus and Eridanus, before entering Taurus and brightening to what could be easy visibility without any optical aid. Around the time of the comet's peak brightness, it will be passing close to the Pleiades star cluster. On Dec. 16, Comet Wirtanen and the star cluster are a bit more than 3 degrees apart.
As the comet passes into Perseus, the moon gets closer to it, washing out the sky and making it harder to spot. On Dec. 23, the comet will be less than 1 degree from one of the brightest stars in the sky, Capella, and the pair will pass near the zenith during late evening hours. Unfortunately, the moon on this night is just past full and nearby, trying to outshine the comet. The moon rises a bit later each night after it is full, giving you more time in dark skies to search for the comet before moonlight interrupts. If you miss it in 2018, don't worry—it persists into 2019, and because it's a short period comet, it will return in 5 years.
Reposted with permission from our media associate SIERRA.
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1. Stay Informed<p>A first order of business in pet evacuation planning is to understand and be ready for the possible threats in your area. Visit <a href="https://www.ready.gov/be-informed" target="_blank">Ready.gov</a> to learn more about preparing for potential disasters such as floods, hurricanes, and wildfires. Then pay attention to related updates by tuning <a href="http://www.weather.gov/nwr/" target="_blank">NOAA Weather Radio</a> to your local emergency station or using the <a href="https://www.fema.gov/mobile-app" target="_blank">FEMA app</a> to get National Weather Service alerts.</p>
2. Ensure Your Pet is Easily Identifiable<p><span>Household pets, including indoor cats, should wear collars with ID tags that have your mobile phone number. </span><a href="https://www.avma.org/microchipping-animals-faq" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Microchipping</a><span> your pets will also improve your chances of reunion should you become separated. Be sure to add an emergency contact for friends or relatives outside your immediate area.</span></p><p>Additionally, use <a href="https://secure.aspca.org/take-action/order-your-pet-safety-pack" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">'animals inside' door/window stickers</a> to show rescue workers how many pets live there. (If you evacuate with your pets, quickly write "Evacuated" on the sticker so first responders don't waste time searching for them.)</p>
3. Make a Pet Evacuation Plan<p> "No family disaster plan is complete without including your pets and all of your animals," says veterinarian Heather Case in <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q9NRJkFKAm4" target="_blank">a video</a> produced by the American Veterinary Medical Association.</p><p>It's important to determine where to take your pet in the event of an emergency.</p><p>Red Cross shelters and many other emergency shelters allow only service animals. Ask your vet, local animal shelters, and emergency management officials for information on local and regional animal sheltering options.</p><p>For those with access to the rare shelter that allows pets, CDC offers <a href="https://www.cdc.gov/healthypets/emergencies/pets-in-evacuation-centers.html" target="_blank">tips on what to expect</a> there, including potential health risks and hygiene best practices.</p><p>Beyond that, talk with family or friends outside the evacuation area about potentially hosting you and/or your pet if you're comfortable doing so. Search for pet-friendly hotel or boarding options along key evacuation routes.</p><p>If you have exotic pets or a mix of large and small animals, you may need to identify multiple locations to shelter them.</p><p>For other household pets like hamsters, snakes, and fish, the SPCA recommends that if they normally live in a cage, they should be transported in that cage. If the enclosure is too big to transport, however, transfer them to a smaller container temporarily. (More on that <a href="https://www.spcai.org/take-action/emergency-preparedness/evacuation-how-to-be-pet-prepared" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">here</a>.)</p><p>For any pet, a key step is to establish who in your household will be the point person for gathering up pets and bringing their supplies. Keep in mind that you may not be home when disaster strikes, so come up with a Plan B. For example, you might form a buddy system with neighbors with pets, or coordinate with a trusted pet sitter.</p>
4. Prepare a Pet Evacuation Kit<p>Like the emergency preparedness kit you'd prepare for humans, assemble basic survival items for your pets in a sturdy, easy-to-grab container. Items should include:</p><ul><li>Water, food, and medicine to last a week or two;</li><li>Water, food bowls, and a can opener if packing wet food;</li><li>Litter supplies for cats (a shoebox lined with a plastic bag and litter may work);</li><li>Leashes, harnesses, or vehicle restraints if applicable;</li><li>A <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/pet-first-aid-supplies-checklist" target="_blank">pet first aid kit</a>;</li><li>A sturdy carrier or crate for each cat or dog. In addition to easing transport, these may serve as your pet's most familiar or safe space in an unfamiliar environment;</li><li>A favorite toy and/or blanket;</li><li>If your pet is prone to anxiety or stress, the American Kennel Club suggests adding <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">stress-relieving items</a> like an anxiety vest or calming sprays.</li></ul><p>In the not-unlikely event that you and your pet have to shelter in different places, your kit should also include:</p><ul><li>Detailed information including contact information for you, your vet, and other emergency contacts;</li><li>A list with phone numbers and addresses of potential destinations, including pet-friendly hotels and emergency boarding facilities near your planned evacuation routes, plus friends or relatives in other areas who might be willing to host you or your pet;</li><li>Medical information including vaccine records and a current rabies vaccination tag;</li><li>Feeding notes including portions and sizes in case you need to leave your pet in someone else's care;</li><li>A photo of you and your pet for identification purposes.</li></ul>
5. Be Ready to Evacuate at Any Time<p>It's always wise to be prepared, but stay especially vigilant in high-risk periods during fire or hurricane season. Practice evacuating at different times of day. Make sure your grab-and-go kit is up to date and in a convenient location, and keep leashes and carriers by the exit door. You might even stow a thick pillowcase under your bed for middle-of-the-night, dash-out emergencies when you don't have time to coax an anxious pet into a carrier. If forecasters warn of potential wildfire, a hurricane, or other dangerous conditions, bring outdoor pets inside so you can keep a close eye on them.</p><p>As with any emergency, the key is to be prepared. As the American Kennel Club points out, "If you panic, it will agitate your dog. Therefore, <a href="https://www.akc.org/expert-advice/home-living/create-emergency-evacuation-plan-dog/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pet disaster preparedness</a> will not only reduce your anxiety but will help reduce your pet's anxiety too."</p>
Evacuating Horses and Other Farm Animals<p>The same basic principles apply for evacuating horses and most other livestock. Provide each with some form of identification. Ensure that adequate food, water, and medicine are available. And develop a clear plan on where to go and how to get there.</p><p>Sheltering and transporting farm animals requires careful coordination, from identifying potential shelter space at fairgrounds, racetracks, or pastures, to ensuring enough space is available in vehicles and trailers – not to mention handlers and drivers on hand to support the effort.</p><p>For most farm animals, the Red Cross advises that you consider precautionary evacuation when a threat seems imminent but evacuation orders haven't yet been announced. The American Veterinary Medical Association has <a href="https://www.avma.org/resources/pet-owners/emergencycare/large-animals-and-livestock-disasters" target="_blank">more information</a>.</p>
Bottom Line: If You Need to Evacuate, So Do Your Pets<p>As the Humane Society warns, pets left behind in a disaster can easily be injured, lost, or killed. Plan ahead to make sure you can safely evacuate your entire household – furry members included.</p>
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