Friday, December 21, 2012
By JIM WHITE
Happy New Year!
Welcome to 2013. While the year will not yield anything as rare as 2012's transit of Venus, it will provide the usual enjoyment for those who look toward the heavens.
January greets us with Jupiter taking center stage, located almost directly south in the evening. It is now moving away from the Earth, but will still be very bright in January and higher in the sky during evening hours.
Venus, our brightest planet, will be located low in the southeastern morning sky in January. Venus is currently on the far side of the Sun, and quite far from us.
The ringed planet Saturn is visible low in the southeastern sky in early morning hours. Saturn will be in a better position to view in late spring and early summer.
Early January features the Quadrantid meteor shower, peaking on Jan. 3. This year the best show should be in the early morning hours of Jan. 3. Alas, this year the Moon will be fairly bright in the morning sky, with 66 percent of the illumination of the full Moon, making the meteors difficult to see.
January's new Moon will be on Jan. 11, with full Moon following on Jan. 27. On the morning of Jan. 6, look for the Moon to be located just to the right of the planet Saturn. On Jan. 21, the Moon will again join Jupiter and the Pleiades, located right between the two in our evening sky.
Winter constellations include bright and recognizable Orion, Taurus the Bull, which this year hosts Jupiter, and the twins of Gemini, located above Orion.
Look to the northwest for some lesser known constellations -- Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Perseus, and Triangulum. To find them, start with the most recognizable, Cassiopeia the Queen. While it is difficult to depict a Queen sitting in a chair, Cassiopeia resembles the letter "W" outlined in bright stars. To find it, look for Ursa Major, the "Great Bear" or Big Dipper. From the Dipper, look to the west, to the northwestern sky. Use the picture with this article for a guide. See if you can make out the "W."
Once you have located Cassiopeia, look below it and to the right for Cepheus, the King, and above Cassiopeia and to the left for Perseus.
Below and to the left of Perseus, find Triangulum as a noticeable triangle of fairly bright stars. Scan the area just below the tip of the Triangle with a pair of binoculars, and you may be able to locate the Triangulum galaxy, also known as M33.
M33 and the nearby Andromeda galaxy are easiest galaxy systems to see. Try to find both with binoculars -- let me know if you are successful!
If you're already tired of winter, take heart. By the end of the month, spring constellations Leo and Virgo will begin to peek above the western horizon in the evening! And days are lengthening, albeit slowly.
On Jan. 1, sunrise occurs at about 7:49 a.m., and sets at about 4:30 p.m., for a day length of only 8 hours, 41 minutes.
On Jan. 31, sunrise will have backed off to 7:30 a.m., and sunset will be at 5:09 p.m., for a total day length of 9 hours 39 minutes -- a gain of almost an hour of daylight.
So brave the cold, and step outside on a clear January evening, and look skyward.