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Urban Observing January 2014 January 1, 2014

Posted by aquillam in Astronomy, MichiganAstro, Urban Observing.
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Events

Perihelion occurs on January 4 at 0:59 UT (6:59 PM Jan. 3 EST). We’ll be 1.5 million miles closer to the Sun than our average distance. Can you feel the warmth??

The New Moon is on January 1, so it’s a great time to look for a dark site to try out a new telescope or look for meteors.

The month kicks off with what could be one of the strongest meteor showers of the year. However, the Quadrantids have a very short peak, within a few hours of 20:00 UT (3 PM EST). If you’re still willing to brave a January night, look north-east between the Big Dipper and the horizon between 3 and 6 AM local time on January 3. In North America, expect about 25 bright meteors per hour, including about 10 bright ones and a few fireballs.

Looking east at 4 AM local time on January 3. The location or the radiant of the Quadrantids is marked. Image made using Starry Night.

Looking east at 4 AM local time on January 3. The location or the radiant of the Quadrantids is marked. Image made using Starry Night.

 

Planets

Looking west soon after dusk on January 31, 6:30 PM.

Looking west soon after dusk on January 31, 6:30 PM.

Mercury appears in the evening twilight at sunset near the end of the month. Look for it beginning around January 20. It actually reaches greatest eastern elongation on the 31, so that should be the best day to spot it. If you have a small telescope, look low in the west-south-west at 6:30 for Mercury, a very young Moon, and Neptune.

Venus is a bright evening star at sunset the start of January. It sets before 7 PM though, so get out there quick!  By the second week, it’ll be lost in the glare of the Sun, as it heads for inferior conjunction on the 11th. Look for it to appear in the morning skies around the 20th. With a pair of binoculars, you might be able to catch a very young Moon just above Venus at sunset on January 2, or an old crescent Moon with Venus just before dawn on the 28th.

Mars finally rises before midnight on the 24th. It makes a nice pair with blue Spica in the morning skies all month. The last quarter Moon slides past it on the morning of the 23rd.

Looking south at 6 AM local time on January 24.

Looking south at 6 AM local time on January 24.

Jupiter is at opposition on the 5th, so it rises right  around sunset all month. It’s in Gemini, so it’s also in an area with a lot of bright stars. Look for a spectacular grouping as the nearly full Moon also passes through Gemini from the 13 – 15th.

Saturn is the brightest thing in the eastern sky at sunrise most of the month. Look for it in Libra in the south-south-east at 6 AM.  A fat crescent Moon passes less than 2º from Saturn on the 25th.

Deep Sky Objects

The nice thing about January is the long winter nights give you a lot of time for observing, at least when it’s actually clear. So put on those long johns and go outside while it’s clear!

Look for Albireo low in the west-north-west at 6:30. Head toward zenith to the open clusters M39 and the Perseus Double Cluster. By 7 PM, it should be dark enough to spot M31, the Andromeda galaxy. While you’re there, check out the double star Almach (gamma Andromedae).

Looking east at 7 PM on January 14.

Looking east at 7 PM on January 14.

Of course, this is winter, so the real highlights are in the east at sunset. A pair of binoculars is all it takes to resolve dozens of bright stars in the Pleiades or the hazy patch of the Orion Nebula.  The area is full of open clusters, so be sure to look for the Beehive cluster, M41, 47, and 48 too. Point a small telescope to Castor or Rigel for a couple more nice double stars.

Looking west at 7 PM on January 14.

Looking west at 7 PM on January 14.

The Moon

The Moon is full on the night of the 15/16th.

The terminator crosses the Apollo 15 landing site on the 9th and 22nd. It’s on the edge of Mare Imbrium, near the north end of Rima Hadley. It’s a fairly easy area to find. Look for the triangle of Archimedes, Aristillus, and Autolycus craters, and the channel where Mare Imbrium and Mare Serenitatis meet. Mons Hadley, at the northern end of Rima Hadley, should stand out in the lunar twilight even in a small telescope. The area has many lava tubes and fissures, especially in the Rimae Fresnel area, between Rima Hadley and the trio of craters. A wide ‘scope with a high magnification eyepiece might enable you to see the lava tube, Hadley Rille.

The area around the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon on January 22 in the morning

The area around the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon on January 22 in the morning

The area around the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon on January 8 in the evening.

The area around the Apollo 15 landing site on the Moon on January 8 in the evening.

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