Heads UP! for January 2011
Early Mornings’ Reward
Jupiter in Prime Time (with bonus planet!)
What’s Up in Space
WAA Observing Night, Meetings
Early Risers Rewarded
When you are out before sunrise, use brilliant Venus as our guide. Out in the southeastern sky, Venus outshines everything except the sun and moon, grabbing the attention of the all sky watchers. Large binoculars or a decent telescope will show a half-full (or half-dark?) Venus. To the upper right of Venus, the next bright star is Spica in Virgo and then nearby to Spica’s upper right is the planet Saturn. Saturn’s rings are tiny, but a delicate delight in just about any telescope. To the lower left of Venus, the next bright object, low on the horizon, is the planet Mercury. Mercury, at high power, also shows itself to be half-lit. Mercury will be around for all of January, but easiest to see during the first two weeks. The thin moon, with earthshine on the part not lit by the sun, joins the morning sky on the 1st and 2nd and from the 29th into the first days of February. Remember that east- or south-facing train and elevated subway platforms are good locations to see the dawn and its planets.
Jupiter (with Bonus Planet!)
Jupiter dominates evening’s prime time viewing this month. From now through the middle of the month, binoculars or any telescope will show a bluish dot nearby – that’s the planet Uranus! If you make a diagram of what you see, you can compare it with on-line star charts, or my favorite, the Solar System Simulator to confirm which dot of several in the area is Uranus. (Example of the Solar System Simulator for “January 5th at 0000 hours GMT” which is 7pm on the 4th here in the eastern US is shown, above,take note of the tiny dots right next to Jupiter, its four brightest moons.)
The Shuttle Discovery has rolled back to its hanger (the ginormous Vehicle Assembly Building) for inspection and repair of internal supports in the external fuel tank. The flight is being aimed for launch on February 3rd or thereafter. There are two flights remaining of the shuttle after that, and then access to the International Space Station will be via the Russian Soyuz three-person spacecraft and commercial vehicles as they are developed.
If you haven’t seen the ISS lately, a dot of light as bright as Jupiter moving across the sky, the late dawns and early dusks are great times to point it out to people. In January, the ISS can be seen in the evening sky until January 16th , and in the morning sky after January 21st . Check NASA or heavens-above.com for exact times.
The Quadrantids meteor shower has a narrow time window for the peak number of meteors, this year on the evening of the 3rd, when the place in the sky the meteors appear to radiate from is on the other side of the world. But, sometimes, we can see a few long-streaking meteors that evening – rare but impressive.
Did you get a telescope or binoculars for Christmas? Westchester Astronomers meet for telescope viewing (bring your own or use one of ours!) on the evening of January 1st, weather permitting, at the Ward Pound Ridge Reservation in upper Westchester County. If weather does not permit, we will try again on the 8th. Our monthly meeting is on the 7th. For details see our web site http://www.westchesterastronomers.org/ . You can also download our informative and colorful newsletter there. Sky and Telescope also has a web site for new telescope users at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/community/skyblog/newsblog/36746649.html