Tuesday, January 2, 2018

Look At The Sky - January


Well, this does not happen often....there are TWO full moons in January 2018 which is somewhat rare in itself (two full moons in the same month result in the second being called the "Blue Moon"), and each one of them just happens to be near its closest point to Earth in its 27.5-day orbit around our planet!  Two full moons, two Super moons and one Blue Moon.  Look to the sky on 2 Jan and on 31 Jan. 

AND there is a total lunar eclipse on the 31st for north-western North America, the Pacific, Asia, and Australia.

The Planets for January:
A VERY COLD month, and mostly devoid of bright planets for the early evening hours this year.  Two very interesting very close conjunctions take place this month!

Mercury - Mercury is very close to the eastern horizon in bright dawn skies, and is very closely in conjunction with the ringed planet SATURN on Jan. 13, much like Mars and Jupiter (below); after mid-month the innermost planet will again move eastward toward the horizon and be hidden by the sun's glare at late month.  Both Mercury and Saturn will rise about the first light of dawn, 6 a.m., on Jan. 13 - in SAGITTARIUS

Venus - our brightest planet will not be favorably placed in either morning nor evening skies this month due to proximity to the sun - in SAGITTARIUS.

Mars - A spectacular sight awaits all during the first two weeks of this year, when bright reddish MARS moves eastward in the very early morning skies and appears to overtake mighty yellow JUPITER.  For each day after the first of the year, look for Mars to edge more toward Jupiter until the two are actually within the SAME telescopic field of view, only 0.2 degrees apart on January 7.  Both rise at about 4 a.m. local time and will be high above the eastern horizon before morning twilight.  Mars will be much smaller (less than 5" arc) in the telescope against huge Jupiter (over 40" arc across) but both will be brilliant and in stark contrast in terms of color; Mars will continue a slow trek each following morning toward the east. - in LIBRA

Jupiter - Now rising in the EAST about 4 a.m. local time, the largest of all planets will be high in the east 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.  See MARS above for the spectacular telescopic conjunction on Jan. 7 - in LIBRA

Saturn - Very low in eastern skies and rising about 6 a.m. local time, the ringed planet will make its yearly debut in predawn skies by mid-month; see MERCURY above for info on the Jan. 13 close conjunction! - in OPHIUCHUS

Uranus - distant planet Uranus is overhead about 6 p.m.. local time and is setting 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  - look for faint Neptune in large telescopes at mid-month south and far west of overhead about dusk local time.(mag. 7.6), setting about the time the skies get dark. - in AQUARIUS

Pluto - at magnitude 14.3, our most distant planet (yes....it is a planet)  will not be visible in telescopes because of its proximity to the sun.  - in SAGITTARIUS

METEOR SHOWERS for January 2018:  .

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 nearly full phase and dominate 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 2018 the moon will 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 NEW MOON  will be absent from the sky throughout the night after about 10 p.m., thus making this a terrific year to observe these meteors ; 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, NO MOON 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 absent and skies dark for this one 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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