February Moon at Ascending Node

   Thursday February 6th the 13-day old waxing gibbous, and nearly full Moon, rises sort of in the arms of the Gemini Twins. The Moon will be about 10o to the west from the ‘Twin’ Stars Pollux and Gemini.

   As it is rising the 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.

   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 2006 Scope on the Sky column “The Real Shape of the Moon’s Orbit”. (PDF)

   

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Taurus Head-Butts the Moon!

   Monday evening February 3rd the 10-day old waxing gibbous Moon will be about 3-4o from the reddish star Aldebaran in Taurus the Bull. Aldebaran, in mythology, represents the ‘angry eye’ of the Bull. Aldebaran is also the brightest star in the v-shaped Hyades open star cluster. Nearby is another open star cluster, the Pleiades, most observable as a small dipper-shape grouping of stars.

   
   
   

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The Inner and Outer Solar System

   Friday evening January 31st there is an opportunity to see or at least visualize the inner and outer areas of our solar system. About an hour or so after local sunset look toward the western horizon for the brightly shining inner planet Venus with a -4.0 apparent magnitude. Nearby, about 5o west from Venus, is the outermost of the 8 planets, Neptune. However with an apparent magnitude of 7.94 Neptune would only be visible with an optical aid – the larger the better.
   Look further east and higher for the 7-day old waxing crescent Moon to be between the outer planet Uranus and the Dwarf Planet Eris. About 9o below the Moon is the Dwarf Planet Eris with an apparent magnitude of 18.60 – definitely not naked-eye visible. Above the Moon by about 5o is the outer planet Uranus, just barely visible to the naked-eye with an apparent magnitude of 5.80.

   
   
   

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 Moon at 2nd Apogee

   Our Moon reaches apogee, (greatest distance from Earth), for this orbit, on Wednesday January 29th. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 31.78 Earth diameters 251,899 miles (405,393 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the apogee Moon the 5-day old waxing crescent Moon rises around mid-morning and sets before midnight. At around sunset the Moon will over the southwestern horizon with Venus shining brightly lower and closer to the horizon.

   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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Venus and Moon: A 2-Day Affair

   After the very thin waxing crescent Moon passed the innermost planet Mercury on the evening of the 25th the Moon continues its eastward orbit, and over a 2-day period the waxing crescent Moon passes by the other inner planet, Venus. On the evenings of January 27th and 28th the 3-4-day old waxing crescent Moon will be within 7o from Venus. On the 27th the Moon will be to the west and on the 28th the Moon will be east from Venus. Both conjunctions will fit within the field of view of binoculars.
   On the evening of the 27th Venus will be less than 0.5o from the 4th magnitude star Phi Aquarii. This is an interesting contrast in magnitudes between the 4th magnitude star and nearby Venus. Venus also has a magnitude of 4, however for Venus it is a -4.0 apparent magnitude!


   
   
   

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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Young Moon – Mercury Conjunction

   Early Saturday evening January 25th the 1.5-day young thin waxing crescent Moon will be about 1-2o from the innermost planet Mercury. Both are within about 15o, or about 1 hour, behind (to the east) from the Sun as this graphic shows. Local time for sunset is around 5:30 pm CST and the Moon and Mercury set approximately 1 hours later.

   This is definitely a binocular viewing opportunity especially for trying to see a very young crescent Moon. The youngest observed Moon on record was seen by Stephen James O’Meara in May of 1990 when he saw a 15 hour 32 minute crescent Moon.

   However be very careful as the Sun is close to the Moon and Mercury.

   
   
   

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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Uranus at Eastern Quadrature – 2019

   Thursday January 23rd 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 southwestern horizon after sunset for the stars making up the constellation of Aries the Ram. In particular look for the brighter star Hamal. About 11-12o down to the left from Hamal is the outer ringed planet Uranus.

   With a 5.78 apparent magnitude Uranus is just bright enough to be seen with binoculars as perhaps a very small dot. In the graphic I have enlarged the planet to make it more easy to see. 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. Off to the right and lower are the four stars making up the familiar “Square of Pegasus” asterism.

   
   
   

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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