Heads UP! for January 2010 (Part 1)

Happy New Revolution Around the Sun !

Jupiter gets lower in the sky after sunset in January.

Since the Earth is moving around the other side of the Sun from Jupiter, we are getting further away.  Binoculars may not be enough to see Jupiter’s moons, but any size telescope will show you up to four moons.  Get a finder chart from web sites like Sky and Telescope’s and found out how to take a small hop with your telescope from Jupiter to nearby Neptune, the eighth planet.

Go Deeper !

If you want to fill in the seventh planet, Uranus, on your list of ‘planets I’ve seen’, then while you’re looking at the finder chart for Neptune, download the finder chart for Uranus in the evening sky.  Uranus is bright enough to look like a faint star in binoculars.  Binoculars have the advantage of making it easier to find nearby brighter stars and use them to find Uranus.  You’ll need a telescope to see Uranus as a tiny bluish dot, compared to the points of light of the distant stars.

Red Light Pointer

In the eastern sky, in the evening, you can use the ‘red stars’ to find your way across the sky.  On the sky opposite where the sun sets, you can see reddish Aldebaran at the end of horns of the bull, Taurus. Then, further down, is the reddish star Betelgeuse in the outstretched arm of the giant hunter Orion, who is lying on his side as he rises in the evening.  Way down on the horizon, after 7pm, the planet Mars rises.  Which is redder?

Earth scoots by Mars about the end of the month

We make a close (ok, 60 million miles, but it’s closer than usual) pass at Mars at the end of January.  Point your telescope at Mars, especially when it’s higher in the sky later at night and you may be able to see the bright polar cap and some dusky marking on the tiny planet.  If you don’t see any details, try dimming the planet with a filter, or even sunglasses.  Mars is small, but it’s like staring into a tiny, but bright red light bulb.

Saturn in the Morning

Saturn’s rings are opening up a bit.  You can see Saturn with the unaided eye, but it helps to have a whole sky map to pick out which bright star is Saturn.  You’ll need a telescope for the rings, but everyone who’s seen them says it’s worth it.

January Edition of Subway Astronomy

This month, the only really noticeable object in the morning sky is Mars.  From my subway station, I can see Mars high in the sky opposite where the sun will rise.  It’s next to an apartment building with a red aircraft warning light.  Does Mars earn its name “The Red Planet” when you compare it to the red light?  What color is it?

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