January 11 to January 17
Gear up for a spring of planets. Mars might be fading but we've got lots more to enjoy and a LOT more to look forward to. I'll give you a hint-May evenings will be the time to enjoy our view overlooking the solar system's plane.
Saturn serenely presents its open rings for us to enjoy. Those two bright
stars nearby are Castor and Pollox. Saturn's light takes just over an hour to
reach us; the light from Castor and Pollox takes 45 years and 34 years
respectively. Saturn isn't to far away from the part of the sky where Pluto was
discovered in 1930 and where Uranus was discovered in 1781
AND, you couldn't possibly miss Jupiter in the morning sky! Hog-tie your busy moments and take the time to watch Jupiter's moons playfully bounce around the stately planet.
January 18 to January 24
Mars might be fading, but it's an outstanding object in a dimly lit part of the sky. You don't need a telescope to take part in planetary observing. Take a piece of paper and pencil out and sketch the stars nearby. Mark Mar's location. Keep doing this every clear night and you'll trace the planet's path from Pisces to Aries and then on below the Pleiades. By May, Mars is on Taurus' turf. Try comparing Mar's glow to the brighter stars nearby and see if you can guestimate his brilliance. Now you are an astronomer!
Now that you're feeling smug about finding Mercury, have a look on the 19th when the crescent Moon hovers nearby.
January 25 to January 31
The Moon and Venus make a pretty pair in the evening sky on the 24th. Enjoy. If you have a telescope, try to pick out Venus' changing crescent shape. Now try animating Venus by sketching her changing shape over the next couple of months. She truly is a living goddess.
The Moon snuggles close to Mars on the 27th. The Moon is � degree across. Can you estimate the angular distance between the Moon and Mars? Don't cheat.
February 1 to February 7
Get out and take a look at Saturn high in the sky with the Moon nearby and even higher on the 2nd.
Cruise below Saturn and take in the sights in Orion. This constellation
hovering in the western evening sky is in the next arm out and we�re looking
towards our galaxy�s suburbs and away from its urban summer crowds. The belt
stars lie about 800 to 1300 light years away. Below and beyond, the Orion Nebula
(M42) lies 1400 light years away. Compare the brightness of the other four stars
that you can easily identify as being part of this constellation. Remember that
the further away a star is, the fainter its light will be. But a very luminous
star can be further away than a less luminous star yet appear much brighter.
Compare Saiph (left knee) at 720 light years away and Rigel (right knee) at 770
light years away�both are about the same distance away. Does their brightness
differ? Add Bellatrix (right shoulder) into the mix. Bellatrix is only 245 light
years away. Now add Betelgeuse (left shoulder) at 450 light years away. If all
the stars were the same distance away, which one
February 8 to February 14
It's nine a.m. on the 8th. Can you find the Moon? Can you find Jupiter? Keep your binoculars handy, strain your eyes and see if you can see those pesky moons hovering like flies around Jupiter.
February 15 to February 21
Between February 21 and 25, the crescent Moon waxes as it rises out of the sunset murk and soars past Venus and then Mars. Get your sketch pad or camera ready for some nice solar system portraits.