Herbert Friedman found out that searching for the answers of the universe can be habit-forming. Find a cozy corner, pull up a down comforter and open his recent book, "The Astronomer's Universe" (Norton, $24.95). Friedman, who lives in Northern Virginia and is director emeritus of the Naval Research Laboratory, weaves the stories of modern-time astronomers, using his own experiences to provide insight to some of those answers.

Friedman says his personal dream "came alive in 1946 when captured World War II German V-2s {were launched} from the New Mexico desert with astronomical instruments in their nose cones. I was lured from a quiet, traditional laboratory mode of research by the spine-tingling adventure of high-altitude experiments with rockets. My first experience led to a lifelong addiction," he writes.

Author Friedman takes a nice gallop through modern astronomy in this book, painting portraits of astronomers and describing cosmic events. Students and armchair astronomers undoubtedly could benefit from this rich source of scientific history.

Another locally written book also could be good for cold January nights. From atop Massachusetts Avenue, Gail Cleere has prepared a definitive history of the official vice presidential residence in "The House On Observatory Hill" (Government Printing Office, $7).

Cleere, public information officer for the Oceanographer of the Navy, has sifted through the files and archives of the Naval Observatory and interviewed the relatives of former astronomers to sketch a lively chronicle of how a normal, everyday Victorian dwelling went from housing well-placed naval officers to sheltering the second family of the country.

The book is available through the GPO, Superintendent of Documents, Dept 36-HM, Washington, D.C. 20402. It can be ordered by telephone and paid for with Visa or MasterCard; 202-783-3238.

If the clouds make way for clear skies, catch the Quadrantid meteor shower, which should be streaking across the heavens tonight through Sunday night. The usually blue flashes will peak tomorrow evening, just prior to midnight. Finding them won't be hard if you're determined enough to tolerate the cold. Just look up for a long time and you're bound to catch one.

At the end of this month, a penumbral lunar eclipse (a shadowy version of a partial eclipse) should capture our cosmic attention. Penumbral lunar eclipses are fairly common. In fact, there are three this year. The other two will occur this summer, flanking July's excellent solar eclipse. There also will be a partial lunar eclipse next December.

Meanwhile, the full moon on the night of Jan. 29-30 will turn a slight copper shade at around 1 a.m. for those watching from the eastern seaboard. It's also the same night that Jupiter dances with the full moon.

Aside from the lunar eclipses and the major solar eclipse this summer, an annular eclipse of the sun occurs on Jan. 15. Since the moon is farther away from Earth now than it will be in July, the entire sun won't be covered. The January eclipse will be visible only from Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.

In between the eclipses and the meteor showers, there are a few bright objects twinkling and hanging in the winter sky. Looking south, it's hard to miss the flickering bright blue object in the southeast. That's Sirius.

Higher and to the right of Sirius, the majestic winter constellation Orion takes aim on Spring. Shaped like an H, Orion is the most pronounced constellation seen from the back-lighted night heavens of the Washington area. In skies that are dark enough, sky watchers can find the stream of the Milky Way winding its way in between Orion and Gemini. Gemini is to the left of Orion.

Last year, Jupiter hung around his old buddies Orion and the Gemini twins. This year, the large gaseous planet is trying to get to know Cancer and Leo. It is very bright and can be found to the lower left of Gemini. Jupiter rises around 8 p.m., but won't be clearly visible until around 9 o'clock.

Spring starts on Mars tomorrow, and you still can see the planet from here through a telescope. The Red Planet has been dimming since the middle of last month. Mars hangs the Pleiades (Pronounced PLAY-a-deez) in Taurus, which is to the right of Orion.

The effervescent Venus strolls back in our skies and snags the last chunk of dusk for herself. By the middle of the month, she should be perceptible in the west-southwest, just above the horizon after sunset.

Down-to-Earth Events

Jan. 5 -- Geoff Chester of the Einstein Planetarium discusses light pollution in the Washington area and discloses what other jurisdictions have done to save money and energy and reduce wasted light. Einstein Planetarium, Air & Space Museum, 9 a.m. Free.

Jan. 7 -- Bundle up for an outdoor tour of the night sky at the Arlington Planetarium, adjacent to Washington-Lee High School. 7 p.m. Adults, $2; children and senior citizens, $1. Information, (703) 358-6070.

Jan. 14 -- The Naval Observatory reopens its doors for tours, Monday nights at 7:30. The free tours had stopped in the fall and were scheduled to resume this spring, but the observatory has decided to reopen earlier. Tours are limited to around 100 people, on a first-come, first-served basis. The observatory is located at 34th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW.