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Monday, January 2, 2017

Look at the Sky - January





The Planets for January:
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A VERY poor November for viewing the major planets, other than brilliant VENUS in early evening skies and your first look at Jupiter in the morning for 2017!

Mercury - Mercury is very close to the eastern horizon in bright dawn skies, and is just east of much brighter Saturn; after midmonth the innermost planet will again move eastward toward the horizon and be hidden by the sun's glare at late month - in SAGITTARIUS

Venus - our brightest planet will be finally high into evening skies, grouped tightly throughout the month with the distant planet Neptune and bright Red MARS.....Venus will outshine all in the sky except for the moon when present.   BE READY for the spectacular grouping of Venus, Mars, Neptune and the crescent moon in dark evening skies on January 1 and through the first week of the month!  ALSO, as Venus moves even higher in the sky, from Jan. 11-16, watch as the positions of these planets change each night, with a Venus-Neptune conjunction on Jan. 12 - in AQUARIUS.

Mars - Now just EAST of much brighter VENUS the first days of 2017, and look for Mars to be in the same telescopic field of view with NEPTUNE on January 1 - do not miss this conjunction! - in CAPRICORN

Jupiter - Now rising in the EAST about midnight local time, the largest of all planets will be high overhead at dawn, although not so large as it will become as the earth-Jupiter distance decreases over the coming months...it will be high enough for telescopic observations by dawn - in VIRGO

Saturn - Very low in eastern skies and rising about 5:30 a.m. local time, the ringed planet will make its yearly debut in predawn skies by midmonth - in OPHIUCHUS

Uranus - distant planet Uranus is overhead about 6 p.m.. local time and is south of overhead in western skies as midnight approaches,  It shines at magnitude 5.9, bright enough to spot in good binoculars if one knows where to look; use a good planetarium sky program or GO TO telescope to locate this distant world; by sunrise it is high in dark skies and will show a faint, blue disk in large telescopes - PISCES

Neptune - Mars is small, but Neptune is about only 1/3 the apparent diameter this month - look for faint Neptune in large telescopes at midmonth south of overhead about 10 p.m. local time.(mag. 7.6). - in AQUARIUS

Pluto - at magnitude 14.3, our most distant planet (yes....it is a planet) will begin to be visible in bright eastern dawn skies, right on the horizon about 6:45 a.m. late in the month. It will not be visible in telescopes because of its proximity to the sun.  - in SAGITTARIUS


METEOR SHOWERS for January 2017:  .

Observe when the moon does not interfere and attempt to observe AFTER midnight for most meteors to be seen!  There are a few notable meteor showers that peak each January:

January 3-4 - QUADRANTID METEORS - The moon will be at a thin waxing crescent phase and absent from the skies for most of this evening for this year's showing of this meteor shower.  Always a chance for quite a show...the best that January has to offer each year, but in 2017 the moon will NOT hamper observation of these meteors.  With an incredible short and fast maximum peak of 40 or more meteors possible, it will come and go in a flash (about the time that the sky reaches peak darkness after sunset on the 3rd.   In some years under dark skies, observers have seen up to 600 members of this stream per hour, all traveling at a medium speed of about 41 kps.  Most are very faint, remember, and distinctly blue in color, so fast film is desired if photographing these meteors.  The meteor shower emanates from near and north of the bright star Arcturus in the constellation of Bootes, rising in the northeast about midnight.

January 15-16 - DELTA CANCRID METEORS - Sounding more like a disease than a meteor shower, the Delta Cancrids rise in the east about the same time the sun sets in the west...thus it is nearly directly overhead at midnight each year, in the constellation of Cancer.  The shower radiant is actually just slightly west of the bright and well-known naked eye star cluster, Prasepe or the "beehive."  Only about four meteors per hour can be seen from this shower under good conditions, and this year's strong waning gibbous moon  will be dominate the sky throughout the night after about 10 p.m., thus hampering viewing of this shower in 2017 ; I suggest setting up around 7 p.m. local time on Jan 15 for best views.  Cold, but fun!

January 18 - COMA BERENICID METEORS - Also coming from very close to a naked eye cluster, the Coma cluster, this meteor shower rises about 10 p.m. (again, a bit of quarter moonlight on this night for this one!) and is directly overhead at pre-dawn.  These are among the fastest meteors known....65 kps (compare to the Quadrantids, above)...BUT expect only a couple of these swift interlopers per hour.  The moon is last quarter the night of this meteor shower in 2017 and will with light on the peak of this shower if you observe after 1 a.m. local time,  so this is a good year for observing this shower; perhaps some splendid streaking meteors might be visible for those who brave the typically cold nights of January.


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