The Twins Point the Way

   Wednesday evening January 27th the nearly full Moon, a 14-day old waxing gibbous Moon, will be about 6-7o from the star Pollux, one of the two twin stars of Gemini the Twins. The other ‘twin star’, the other brother, is Castor.

   Off to the west over the southern horizon are the planet Mars and Uranus. Further west is Neptune, and the Dwarf Planets Eris and Ceres. Earlier in the evening, after sunset local time the innermost planet Mercury is over the western horizon.

   
   
   

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Uranus at Eastern Quadrature – 2021

   Tuesday January 26th the position of the planet Uranus with respect to the Earth and the Sun places this ringed planet at what is called eastern quadrature. Uranus is at a 90 degree angle from the Earth. Think first quarter Moon as that is a fair comparison of the relative positions of the Earth, the Sun, and Uranus – or any outer planet. At this position Uranus follows the Sun across the sky from east to west as the Earth is rotating, meaning that Uranus rises after the Sun and sets after the Sun.

   So, where is Uranus? Look over the southern horizon after sunset for the reddish star-like object – the planet Mars. A few degrees above Mars is the star Hamal in the constellation of Aries the Ram. About 4o down to the right from Mars is the outer ringed planet Uranus.

   With a 5.77 apparent magnitude Uranus is just bright enough to be seen with binoculars as perhaps a very small dot. However Uranus is at about the naked-eye limit of visibility (6th magnitude) so it would take extremely dark skies to see it without optical assistance. Compare the apparent magnitude of Uranus with that of Mars at 0.34 and the 2.00 apparent magnitude for the star Hamal.

   
   
   

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January Moon at Ascending Node

   Sunday January 24th the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be crossing the plane of the ecliptic moving north. This is known as the ascending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path has with the ecliptic. The ecliptic is actually the Earth’s orbit, and the Moon’s orbit is inclined about 6o from the ecliptic. So there are two node intersections, the ascending and descending nodes.

   On the day of the node crossing the 12-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be over the southeastern horizon around sunset local time. Mars is higher over the southern horizon while Mercury is low over the western horizon. In between are three outer planets, Uranus, Neptune, and Dwarf Planet Ceres.

   Uranus has an apparent magnitude of 5.8 and could be viewed with binoculars and certainly with larger aperture instruments and camera time exposures.

   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as many graphics show? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
*Click here to read my Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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January Apogee Moon

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Thursday January 21st. For this apogee the 9-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be at a distance of 31.70 Earth diameters, 251,282 miles (404,400 km) from the Earth.

   On the date of the apogee, and high above the southwestern horizon, is the 8-day old waxing gibbous Moon. The Moon will be about 7o to the east from the planet Mars, and about 9o from the outer planet Uranus.


   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
   *Click here to read my Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.


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Moon-Mars-Uranus Conjunction

   Wednesday evening January 20th the 8-day old first quarter Moon will be about 4o from the outer planet Uranus and about 6o from Mars. Over the next couple of days Mars and Uranus will be separated by about 1-2o as the faster moving Mars passes by Uranus.
   Earlier in the evening outer Planet Neptune and two Dwarf Planets, Eris and Ceres are also above the horizon. However with apparent magnitudes ranging from 8.0 to 19.0 none of these three would be visible without some sort of optical assistance,

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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October Moon at Apogee #2

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (furthest from Earth), for this orbit, on Friday October 30th. For this apogee the 14-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be at a distance of 31.86 Earth diameters, 252,525 miles (406,400 km) from the Earth.

   On the date of the apogee the 14-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be 13-14o from the planet Mars. The Moon will also be about 11o west from the outer planet Uranus, and about 11o east from Dwarf Planet Eris.


   Does our Moon actually go around the Earth as this graphic shows? From our perspective on the Earth the Moon appears to circle around the Earth. However, in reality, the Moon orbits the Sun together with the Earth*
   *Click here to read my 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)
   
   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to go to bobs-spaces.


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Moon – Mars Conjunction

   Over the next two evenings the 12-13 day old waxing gibbous Moon will pass by the ‘Red Planet’ Mars coming within about 7-8o on Wednesday October 28th and within about 3-4o on Thursday evening October 29th.

   
   
   

Click here to go to the Qué tal in the Current Skies web site for monthly observing information, or here to return to bobs-spaces.


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Mars at 2020 Opposition

Mars at Opposition   Tuesday October 13th Mars will reach a point in its orbit around the Sun where it is at opposition relative to the Earth. At opposition The Earth is between the Sun and Mars, or for that matter, between any of the outer planets and the Sun. At opposition both the Earth and the planet at opposition will have near identical heliocentric longitude. The opposition of Mars sometimes happens around the time that Mars is at its respective perihelion, closest to the Sun. If opposition happens during or near when the Earth is at its respective aphelion, furthest from the Sun, (first few days of July) then Mars will appear larger relative to when these dates are further apart.

Where is Mars Now?

What is opposition?
orbital-positions   The outer planets reach opposition when the Earth has moved into a position with the Sun on one side and the outer planet on the other side. Because all planets orbit in the same direction (toward the east), and all follow orbits that are slightly more elliptical than circular, oppositions occur at regular intervals of about 12 months (except for Mars). Mars is considerably closer to Earth and is moving faster than the other outer planets, so it takes approximately 26 months for Earth to catch up with Mars for an opposition.

   
   
   

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Moon May Get Stung!

   Sunday morning October 11th the 23.6-day old waning crescent Moon will be about 2o from the open star cluster M-44, also known as the Beehive Cluster. This is a group of a few hundred stars located within the constellation Cancer the Crab.
click on graphic to see it larger
   Despite the large difference in apparent magnitude (Moon: -11.4 : Beehive Cluster: 3.4) The Beehive Cluster could still be visible with an optical aid or camera.

   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   
   

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Taurus Eyes the Moon!

   Late Tuesday evening October 6th the 20-day old waning gibbous Moon will be 4-5o from the reddish star Aldebaran in the constellation Taurus the Bull.

   Aldebaran with its reddish color is known from mythology as the ‘angry eye‘ of the Bull. Aldebaran is also one of the two end stars in the v-shaped group of stars making up the face of the bull. This group of stars is an open star cluster, the Hyades, and is one two open star clusters easily seen with the unaided eye within the constellation. The tiny dipper-shaped Pleiades is the other open star cluster.

   
   
   

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