Got binoculars? Tonight’s the night for you!

You’ll also need a very warm coat, but tonight and for the next few days – all you need are binoculars to see great stuff! (And take breaks to warm up inside (try to avoid bright lights) )

Here’s the list: Venus and Mercury close together, Comet Lovejoy, the Pleiades star cluster and Jupiter’s moons, just for starters!  See charts at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/weeks-sky-glance-january-9-17/

Venus and Mercury! After sunset (which is about 4:45pm) look out low in the southwest, to the left of where the brightest glow from twilight about 5:15pm or so. Venus is very bright, but may be hard to see in the bright twilight. It will get lower fast as the sky darkens, and disappears below the horizon by 6:10pm, so don’t be late! Venus and Mercury are close enough together you may need your binoculars to see much fainter Mercury next to Venus.

Once it gets really dark out – after 6:30pm – if you can see the constellation Orion, you can find Comet Lovejoy. Look to our right of the giant hunter and lower than the V of stars that make up the Hyades star cluster.  Scan that area with your binoculars, looking for a fuzzy object amid the pinpoint stars. Here’s my photo from last night. See the V at the top and the fuzzy blue-tinged ball way down at the lower left.

Canon XS on tripod 10 second exposure shows the sky like it looks to the eye.

Canon XS on tripod 10 second exposure shows the sky like it looks to the eye.

Even if you don’t find Comet Lovejoy, take a break and go to the upper right of the V for a small group of faint stars looking like a very little Dipper. That’s the Pleiades, a cluster of hot, young blue stars. Compare them to the older red stars in Orion and the Hyades.

Then turn around – after 7:30 Jupiter will be that bright dot rising in the east. The higher it is the easier it will be to see 3 or 4 tiny dots very close to the planet. You may need to brace the binoculars against a wall or prop them up to steady them enough to see the moons so close to Jupiter.

If you have more time or can stand the cold longer, use your binoculars to examine the V of Hyades, the belt and sword of Orion, or if you can spot it, scan along the Milky Way for the band of faint stars.

Happy hunting!

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