Friday, December 31, 2010

Transition to Morning sky Nearly Done

January Skies
By Jon Spargo
New MexicoTech Astronomy Club

For the past few months we’ve seen a slow transition of planets from the evening sky into the morning sky. With the exception of Jupiter, this transition is nearly complete. Jupiter is still found in the evening sky high in the south-southwest. Uranus is still hovering nearby, barely a half of a degree north of Jupiter. This will be the last opportunity to see these planets so close together until 2038. Binoculars or a small telescope should offer excellent views of both planets.
During the month, Saturn transits the midnight hour. At the beginning of the month it rises at 12:30 a.m. but by month’s end you will see it rise at 10:30 p.m. Saturn’s magnificent rings have opened to a tilt of 10 degrees, which is the best since 2007.
Dazzling Venus, at magnitude -4.5, will rise as much as 3.75 hours before the sun and climb to almost 20 degrees above the horizon before sunrise. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation on the 9th rising, about one and one half hours before the Sun. At magnitude 0 it should be easy to spot below and to the left of Venus during the first two weeks of the month.
The moon will be new on Tuesday, Jan. 4, first quarter on Jan. 12, full on Jan. 19, and last quarter on the Jan. 26.  On Saturday, Jan. 1, the waning crescent moon can be found, about one hour before sunrise, in the southeast halfway between Venus and Mercury in the early morning sky about one hour before sunrise.
On Jan. 8 and 9, the crescent moon will be keeping company with Jupiter in the west. On Jan. 25 at about 1 a.m., look for the waning moon just below and to the right of the ringed planet Saturn. In the early morning hours from Jan. 28 to 30, the waning crescent moon will be found parading past Antares and Venus.
For you orbital mechanics, the Earth will reach perihelion on Monday, Jan. 3. This marks its closest approach to the sun at about 91.4 million miles.
Clear Skies!
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