Dark skies and January planets
1. Sky and Telescope’s free weekly website is www.SkyTonight.com . My info comes mostly from the magazine, but you can find more on that site, along with news that breaks after I submit this.
2. January’s Sky & Telescope includes “Skygazer’s Almanac 2013,” an hourglass-shaped grid representing the hours of darkness (for 40 degrees north). The year’s dates run down each side, and nighttime hours across top and bottom. Lines and symbols show when planets rise and set and other neat stuff. Other info is on the sides, where the “hourglass” narrows. For instance, in 2013 Earth is closest to Sol (91,402,560 miles) Jan. 1, and Sol rises latest Jan. 4. Want more? Go to SkyandTelescope.com/SGA.
3. We would have darker skies and safer streets, and save energy to boot, with more intelligent outdoor lighting. See www.darksky.org .
4. Planets, Luna, Sol and most stars rise somewhere along the eastern horizon and set somewhere in the west.
5. If you’ve not already done so, give your favorite stargazer a good quality plastic planisphere.
Mars is still a dim red dot in the west-southwest. Because of the relative shape and inclination of its orbit and ours, it will set minutes after 6:30 p.m. CST (later, 7:30 pm CDT) from now into early April. As the days get longer, we will lose Mars in Sol’s glare before then.
Bright Jupiter, in Taurus southeast of the zenith, serves as a second horn of the Hyades, opposite Aldeberan in early January. Mercury begins to rise out of the sunset’s glare in late January and will be prominent most of February. That’s it for evening planets.
Saturn rises after midnight all month, and is easily visible for those who rise before morning twilight. Since it is on the far side of the solar system now, it’s not as bright as it will be when we get around to that side in several months. Venus is sinking toward the sunrise but will still be visible in the pre-dawn sky into February. From Jan. 8-10, a thinning crescent Luna will move down toward and past Venus from above Antares in Scorpius into the sunrise.
Quadrantid meteors radiate from a point just east of due north on the horizon at nightfall but halfway between the Big Dipper and the northeast horizon by 1 a.m. They are predicted to peak after midnight Jan. 3 (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Quadrantids), but there are often occasional bursts earlier or later. It will be cold. Dress very warmly. I have never seen a Quadrantid.
Algol, in Perseus, is overhead after dusk all month. Some January minima of Algol: 6:52 pm Jan. 3; 11:48 pm. Jan. 20; 8:37 pm Jan. 23; and 5:26 pm. Jan. 26 (dim as it rises in the northeast).
Constellations next time.
EVAN HAZARD also writes “Threescore and Ten” for The Pioneer’s Prime Time.