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.

   
   
   

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Moon, Mars, and Antares

   Monday morning January 20th, as they all rise together, the 25-day old waning crescent Moon will be within 5o from the planet ‘red planet’ Mars and the red star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.

   
   
   

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Mars on the Move

   Friday morning January 17th, before sunrise, the last quarter Moon will be about 5-6o from the blue-white star Spica in Virgo the Harvest Maiden. However the celestial highlight coming up is further east or lower and closer to the eastern horizon where there are two reddish-colored objects of about the same apparent brightness or magnitude. One object is the planet Mars and the other is the star Antares in Scorpius the Scorpion.

click on animated graphic to see it larger

Mars passing Antares – January 17-23 – 6 am CST

   Watch over the next several mornings and you will be able to determine which one is Mars and which is Antares as one of them moves past the other – as this animated graphic is showing. Also, relative to Mars and Antares the Moon is waning in phase as it zips past the two.

   There is an interesting connection between the star Antares and the planet Mars, based on their similar reddish color. There are times like this year when the two are close and part of the mythology surrounding the two suggests that the star was given its name so as to not confuse it with the planet Mars. The name Antares comes from the Greek word translated to ‘Rival of Mars’.

   Whenever that was historically Mars was probably known as one of the ‘wandering stars’ from the Greek word ‘planetai’. So with its reddish color, like blood, this ‘wandering star’ came to represent Mars, the ‘G-d of War’. Antares, on the other hand is a red supergiant star with a diameter estimated to be such that if it were at the center of our solar system Antares would fill the solar system out to around the main asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

   
   
   

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Mornings Have Hang Ups!

   Northern Hemisphere winter in addition to chilly or cold mornings may sort of warm you, at least in your mind. If you are outside looking at the sky, over the eastern horizon is a large triangular shape of three bright stars. One star each from three different constellations. Deneb in Cygnus the Swan, Vega in Lyra the Harp, and Altair in Aquila the Eagle. This is the asterism (star pattern but not a constellation) the Summer Triangle. There, warmer now?!
   So if you are outside checking out the Summer Triangle, or perhaps Mars and nearby Antares and you have an optical aid like binoculars or a lower power wide-field eyepiece in your telescope aim them and your eyes toward the star Altair. In dark enough skies you can make out the stars making up Sagitta the Arrow a few degrees away from Altair.
   As Altair is rising and with binoculars move the field of view up to the left until the stars of Sagitta fill the field of view. This small constellation, yes a constellation, could be used as a sort of pointer stars to look a few degrees away for a small open star cluster, Brocchi’s Cluster, or more commonly known as the ‘Coathanger Cluster’.
   So if mornings with stars like this don’t warm you up then wait a few months of Earth revolution and these same stars will be showing up in the warmer evening skies of Northern Hemisphere summer and fall.

   
   
   

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January Moon at Perigee

   Our Moon reaches perigee, (closest to Earth), for this orbit, on Monday January 13th. At that time the Moon will be at a distance of 28.69 Earth diameters, 227,396 miles (365,958 km) from the Earth.

   On the day of the perigee Moon the 19-day old waning gibbous Moon will be over the eastern horizon late in the evening.

   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)

   
   
   

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From a Crab to a Lion

   Over the next two evenings, January 11th and 12th, the waning gibbous Moon moves from near the Beehive Cluster, M-44, an open star cluster in Cancer the Crab to near the bright star Regulus in Leo the Lion. M-44, with an apparent magnitude of 3.50 in a dark sky without the Moon nearby is visible to the unaided eye and is easily seen with optical assistance like binoculars, or a low-power wide field eyepiece.


   
   
   

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The Moon and the Twins


   Thursday evening January 10th the 16-day old waning gibbous Moon will be about 6-7o from the star Pollux. Pollux is one of the two Gemini Twin stars.

   
   
   

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