Happy New Year 2019! We have a great sight to start the New Year, on New Year’s Day morning. The waning crescent Moon will lie low in the southeast, with bright Venus right below it, and Jupiter below and to the left of the pair. So, jump out of bed at 7 a.m. and take in the sight. Of course, maybe you’re NOT getting up early after celebrating the New Year. In that case, try Jan. 2. The crescent Moon will now be between Venus and Jupiter, also a very nice sight. Venus and the Moon will have another close conjunction at the end of the month, on the morning of Jan. 31.
Speaking of Jan. 31, some may remember that we had a lunar eclipse on that day last January. This year we’ll have another January eclipse, on Jan. 20. The eclipse will start at about 6:45 p.m., although the initial stages are faint, and will hardly be detectable. At about 7:45 p.m., the darker, full shadow of the Earth will start to move across the Moon. By about 8:40 p.m., the Moon will be fully eclipsed. As with all lunar eclipses, the Moon will be visible, although it will be much darker, and reddish in color. At about 9:45 p.m. the Moon will start to leave the full eclipsed stage, and the entire event will be over by about 10:45 p.m. Check it out if skies are clear! Consider going to the Goldendale Observatory temporary home, at the Stonehenge replica south of Goldendale. I plan to be there!
Note on the eclipse: You may read articles that say the eclipse will occur on Jan. 21. The eclipse will be visible across the US, and parts of Europe will also see totality. But in Europe, it will already be Jan. 21 when the event occurs. Even our east coast will see some of the totality after midnight. So, in some places, it is described as occurring on Jan. 21. But here on the west coast, the eclipse will occur on the evening of Jan. 20.
The bright planets are no longer in the evening sky, except for Mars. The red planet is moving away from us and growing fainter. Look for Mars, high in the southern sky, after sunset. Early in the month, look below the “Great Square” of Pegasus if you recognize that feature. Mars will be the brightest object in that part of the sky. By the end of the month, Mars will have moved to the east relative to the stars and will be located to the left of the great Square.
Jupiter and Venus are in the January morning sky and will “pass” each other during the month. Early in the month, Venus will be higher in the sky, and to the right of Jupiter. Each morning they will appear closer together until they pass each other on Jan. 22.
Brave the cold on a clear January night and check out the bright winter constellations. Orion is familiar to many, with its “belt” of three equally bright stars in a line. Look just below the belt to the “sword”, a line of three stars that extends downward below the belt. Train a pair of binoculars on those stars, and you should be able to make out the hazy cloud of the Orion nebula. See if you can pick it out. The two brightest stars in Orion are Betelgeuse, in the left-side shoulder, and Rigel, in the right-side foot.
Look above and to the right of Orion, and see a bright, reddish star named Aldebaran. Aldebaran makes up one of the eyes of Taurus, the bull. The bull’s horns extend above Orion’s head. With a little imagination, you can picture the blood-red eye of an angry bull, bearing down on Orion. Aldebaran is a “red giant” star, some 44 times the diameter of our Sun. Aldebaran means “leader” in Arabic. The star gets the name as it “leads” the nearby Pleiades star cluster across the sky.