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)

   
   
   

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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!


   
   
   

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January Moon at Descending Node


   Wednesday morning January 22nd the waning crescent Moon crosses the plane of the ecliptic moving south. This is known as the descending node, one of two intersections the Moon’s orbital path (dark green line) has with the ecliptic.

   On the date of the descending node the 27-day old thin waning crescent Moon will be about 4o to the west from the outer ringed planet Jupiter. Both rise within an hour of local time for sunrise.

   
   
   
   
   

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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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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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January Moon at Ascending Node

   Wednesday January 9th the 14.8-day old nearly full Moon rises between the legs of the Gemini Twins. The Moon will be about 14-15o 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)

   

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.


Also Follow me and other great resources at Feedspot.