Podcaster: Rob Webb
Organization: Physics teacher at Pequea Valley High School
Description: Mornings are for the planets this month, with Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn all making appearances, including conjunctions of two different pairs of these planets. The Moon will pass by each of these planets, be full twice, and be eclipsed by Earth’s shadow, but only visibly in certain spots.
Bio: Rob Webb is a physics, astronomy, and sustainability teacher at Pequea Valley High School in Pennsylvania. His passions include teaching, astronomy, astrophotography, planetariums, running, reading, and golf. A proud graduate of Dickinson College in 2005, he also obtained a Master’s Degree in Science Education from Penn State University after conducting research in regards to the current state of planetariums in Pennsylvania. Feel free to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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Mornings are for the planets this month, with Mercury, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn all making appearances, including conjunctions of two different pairs of these planets. The Moon will pass by each of these planets, be full twice, and be eclipsed by Earth’s shadow, but only visibly in certain spots.
- Around Sunset – None
- Throughout the night – None
- Morning (SE) – Mercury (1st half of month), Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (2nd half of month)
- You MIGHT be able to catch Mercury about 10˚ above the horizon about half an hour before sunrise, which is around 7:30am, but only for the first week or two. Luckily, Saturn passes only ½˚ away on the morning of the 13th, making it a little easier to find.
- Not visible this month, on the other side of the Sun – superior conjunction
- Dim, but 30˚ high in the sky by 7am, rising around 3am. Look SE and find the red object near Jupiter and moving through Libra toward Scorpius throughout the month.
- About halfway through the month Saturn might be visible very low on the horizon, and easier to find on the 13th when Mercury is only ½˚ away. But the view just gets better every morning. By month’s end, Saturn rises at 5:30am and is 15˚ high at sunrise. Thus, Saturn’s season of morning appearances begins.
- Rises around 3am in early January, 2am in late January, to about 30˚ above the S horizon at sunrise, moving slowly through Libra.
Full Moon – 1st (Visible all night) – Happens to be a supermoon, which is when the Moon appears a tiny bit larger in the sky due to the coincidence of the Full Moon and the Moon being at perigee, or closest approach in its (slightly) elliptical orbit.
6th, 7th – Conjunction – Jupiter, Mars – Both mornings, look SSE after 3:30am but at least 20 minutes before sunrise, which is about 7:30am. Find bright Jupiter, with dimmer, but redder, Mars less than ½˚ away (half a pinky’s width held at arm’s length).
Last Quarter Moon – 8th (Visible from midnight into the morning)
11th – Close Encounter – Moon, Mars, Jupiter – After 3:00am find the Moon in the SE. Mars and Jupiter will both be within 5˚ to the right and down of the beautifully crescent Moon.
13th – Conjunction – Saturn, Mercury – Rising at about 6:30am, when sunrise is 7:24am, these two will be VERY low on the horizon, but visible in the SE less than 1˚ apart. Mercury should be a little brighter than Saturn, which is right above it. If you’re having trouble, find the crescent Moon and look a little less than 20˚ down and to the left, using two fists held at arm’s length as your guide.
14th, 15th – Close Encounter – Saturn, Mercury, Moon – On the 14th, the Moon will be a little lower, thinner, and closer to Saturn and Mercury, which are a little further apart than yesterday morning. On the 15th, the Moon will be VERY thin, VERY low, and to the left of Mercury and Saturn
New Moon – 16th (darkest skies)
First Quarter Moon – 24th (Visible until midnight)
Full Moon & Total Lunar Eclipse (for some) – 31st (Visible all night) – Find the Moon on the morning of the 31st to catch a glimpse of a total eclipse, but only if you live in the West or Midwest of America, Australia, China, and other places. Eastern U.S. might only see the very beginning of the umbral part of the eclipse, since the Moon will be setting at about that time.
CONSTELLATIONS… STRAIGHT UP
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to visually help you out.
If you’re looking straight up above you…
- After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00pm) – Perseus, Taurus, Auriga – Extra Challenge! Right in the middle of Perseus is an open cluster called Mel 20. If you take binoculars and look around Perseus, you’ll see plenty of stars, but right in the middle where Mel 20 is, there are a lot more than you can see anywhere else in Perseus, hence they call it a cluster of stars.
- Between Sunset and Midnight – Auriga, Taurus, Gemini
- Midnight – Gemini
- Early Morning – Bootes
Winter: Orion is easy to spot as he is visible in the East after sunset. You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.
- Taurus, Pleiades: Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the East after sunset. If you draw a line from the left (bottom) star to the right (top) star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V). Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.
- Canis Major: Draw a line from the right (top) star in Orion’s belt to the left (bottom) star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.
- Gemini, Auriga: Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga. The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky. Going clockwise – Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga). It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.
Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.
End of podcast:
365 Days of Astronomy
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