What's Up in the Night Sky?

January 2018 - Vol. 22, No. 1

Astra's Star Gate

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

happy new year

Sirius (Canis Major), the brightest star in the night sky, shines brilliantly in the South. It forms the bottom leg of the Winter Triangle. The triangle's upper stars are reddish Betelgeuse (Orion) to the right and whitish Procyon (Canis Minor) on the left. Capella (Auriga) appears directly overhead later in the evening and you might even glimpse Canopus (Carina) very low (below Sirius) in the South. Looking North you will find the "Big Dipper" (Ursa Major) with its handle still pointing towards the horizon. Cassiopeia's famous "W" asterism is high in the Northwest and Regulus (Leo) shines in the East. Don't forget to look for Castor and Pollux (Gemini "twins") above the Winter Triangle.

Quadrantid meteor peak, this year's shower peak takes during the reign of the Super Moon. These meteors come from a radiant in the constellation of Bootis. Although this is more of a northern constellation, the meteors can be seen as far as 51 degrees south. This storm may generate up to 120 meteors per hour near the peak at 21 hours UT on the 3rd. May want to try again next year. 8^)

MERCURY observable early in the month in the morning sky best for southern observers. VENUS in superior conjunction will emerge in the twilight evening sky late in the month - - better seen in March. MARS in the constellation Libra will sail past the beautiful green star Zubenelgenubi, mag 2.8, and its binocular companion of 5.3 mag. JUPITER in the morning sky is also in Libra and the two planets will make be a mere .2 deg apart on the 7th. SATURN emerging after last month's conjunction will be hard to spot in the morning twilight. URANUS and NEPTUNE are visible in the evening sky.

Review how to determine Angular Measurement.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time. Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times or check with the U.S. Naval observatory. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

01 This month's full moon is also called the Wolf Moon. Because the moon is at perigee, the lunar disk will appear somewhat larger than average. Check it out!

To those living near ocean shores, high tides should be expected.
03 Earth at perihelion, closest to the Sun in its orbit.

Quadrantid meteor peak in a moonlit sky.

05 Regulus .9 deg S. of Moon, occultation from Alaska, northern Canada, Greenland, Svalbard, Iceland, much of Europe, E. tip of Russia, northwest Africa.
07 Mars .2 deg S. of Jupiter in the constellation of Libra.
09 Venus at superior conjunction.
11 Mars 5 deg S. of Moon.

Jupiter 4 deg S. of Moon

12 Vesta .4 deg N. of Moon, occultation from Southern Africa, Madagascar, French Southern and Antarctic Lands, southwest Australia, and Tasmania.

15 Moon at apogee.

Saturn 3 deg S. of Moon.

Mercury 3 deg S. of Moon

23 Venus at aphelion.
25 Mercury at aphelion.
27 Aldebaran .7 deg S of Moon, oculatation from most of India, central Asia. Mongolia, most of Russia, Alaska, and northwest North America.
30 Moon at perigee, large tides expected.
31 The second full moon this month is known as a blue moon. Not exactly rare, this event takes place about once every 2.7 years. What is much rarer is a Total Lunar Eclipse coinciding with that full blue moon.

Total Lunar Eclipse centered over the Pacific Ocean, nevertheless will provide a nice eclipse for most of Australia, Eastern Asia, Japan, Hawaii and also provide a partial eclipse. The second occultation this month for the first magnitude star Aldebaran. It will be 0.8 deg S. of the Moon occultation from most of North America, Greenland, and Europe, except in south and west Russia.

Ceres at opposition.

Lunar Almanac for January 2018

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s) Best viewed before local midnight
new moon New
Deep Space Objects
first quarter moon 1st. Qtr
Planets & Moon
full moon Full
01 and 31
last quarter moon Last Qtr
Deep Space & Planets

Topic of the month: 2018 Preview

Celestial Circumstances 2018 Preview

MERCURY will join Saturn on January 12 shining at -0.3 in morning twilight. It will then join up with Venus in the evening sky early in March. The fleet-footed planet will meet up with Jupiter on December 21, for an early morning close conjunction. As the year opens VENUS reaches superior conjunction on January 9 not to appear again until late February. After meeting with Mercury in March, our sister planet will close in on distant Uranus on March 29, requiring a telescope to truly appreciate. The two planets will be less than 10' apart. Venus spends much of the year in the evening sky until moving toward inferior conjunction on October 26. In mid-November the planet becomes morning object. From the southern hemisphere, it may be possible to observe Venus before inferior conjunction and again a day later when it emerges in the morning sky.

The planet MARS is the planet to watch this year as it makes a perihelic opposition on July 26. The resonance between Earth and Mars roughly traces out a 15-year cycle. During that time, planet Earth will overtake Mars seven times. The moment that Mars is opposite the Sun from Earth is called "opposition." As both planets orbit the Sun, oppositions occur in roughly the same point of the planets' orbits. When Mars is closest to the Sun, it is also closer to the Earth. The July 26 opposition occurs when the Earth is near aphelion (July 6), farthest from the Sun. Thus the red planet will be closer to the Earth than it has been since 2003 when a very close approach occurred. Our view of Mars is colored by its seasons, during this opposition Mars southern hemisphere will be experiencing Spring, that means the southern polar cap should be prominent. Observers can find out what side of the disk is showing when they are making observations by using the Sky & Telescope Mars Profiler tool. As the red planet nears opposition this time, I hope to see Solus Lacus the so-called black eye of Mars. Syrtis Major, a dark volcanic area appearing somewhat like the India subcontinent should also be a prominent feature as long as the red planet doesn't kick up one of its planet-wide dust storms more common during perihelion. At opposition, the red planet should be shining about -2.8 with a disk that is 24.2". Observers who wish to spot the Martian moons Phoebus (mag 10.5) and Deimos (mag 11.6) can also try to see them at this time. You will need an occulting-bar to mask the bright glow of Mars, a very clear planetary night, and lots of aperture. Good Luck!

The giant planet JUPITER will start the year with a conjunction on January 6 with the red planet Mars. At this time, the disk of Jupiter will be 33" while Mars has a disk of 5"; Jupiter shines at mag -2.7 while Mars is a mere 1.4 mag. Watch the sky as Mars catches up to Jupiter in magnitude. Jupiter reaches opposition on May 9th, riding low for northern observers in the constellation Libra. In July, Jupiter moves back toward Alpha Librae, Zubenelgenubi, one of Astra's favorite stars. Check it out this summer! When Jupiter is near opposition, the 4 Galilean moons will be easy to spot in a field glass. Observers can use Sky & Telescope Jupiter's Moons tool to reveal which is which for any date and time. Planet Jupiter is named after the king of the gods for a very good reason, it reaches opposition every 13 months, shines brighter than anything but the Sun, Moon, Venus, and the International Space Station and spends lots of time in the night sky. Its most famous feature, the Great Red Spot has been shrinking and may some day disappear even in our lifetimes. One thing for sure, Jupiter still has some surprises in store for us.

The planet SATURN is known for its incredible ring system visible in very small instruments. The rings currently point toward Earth and can be seen at their best over the next few years. In 2018, Saturn emerges from conjunction to meet with Mercury as stated before. The ringed planet will have a number of close meetings with the Moon this year: February 11 - waning crescent, April 7 - last quarter, June 27 and July 25 - approaching full, and finally on October 15 - waxing crescent. In March and April Saturn and Mars will be together in the morning sky. Mars will pass 1.3 deg below Saturn on April 2 where they are closest together. On June 27 Saturn will be at opposition.

URANUS, an outer planet discovered by William Herschel will shine at mag 5.8 during its close conjunction with Venus. The blue-green planet will move into conjunction with the Sun in April , not to be been seen again until August. Uranus' opposition date is October 23 when it will shine at 5.7 mag and exhibit a 3.7" disk. NEPTUNE, the outermost planet in the solar system, shines at 7.9 mag. It will reach conjunction on March 4, to return in the early summer months (northern hemisphere). It reaches opposition on September 7 shining at 7.8 mag. Neptune and Mars will be within 2.5 deg on December 7. Neptune hunters may wish to search for Neptune's largest satellite, Triton (mag 13.5) near opposition.

Although the U.S.A. was blessed with a fantastic total solar eclipse last August, 2018 offers only 3 partial solar eclipses. But this year, the disk of the Moon will be totally obscured by the Earth's shadow 2 times. The first total lunar eclipse occurs on January 31, when the greatest eclipse occurs above the Pacific Ocean some 2900 km W. of the Hawaiian islands. The Moon will pass though the Earth's umbra in a manner that should cause the northern portion of its disk to appear darker than the south. Earth citizens in the western portion will receive the best views, with the eclipse occurring 1 day earlier in Australia than Hawaii due to the international dateline. Citizens in eastern Asia will experience the whole eclipse, while citizens in the U.S.A. will experience only a partial. Parts of South America and Africa will have no view of the event. The second total lunar eclipse occurs on July 27, visible in Africa, Asia, South America, Australia and Europe. Total eclipse will last 103 minutes, in the fortunate class of lunar eclipses with total lasting over 100 minutes. In contrast the January total lunar eclipse is a mere 76.6 minutes.

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra for Astra's Almanac

This installment of "What's Up?" is ©2018 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue for information on where to find information such as is presented in this almanac.