Friday, January 14
Saturday, January 15
Sunday, January 16
Monday, January 17
Tuesday, January 18
Wednesday, January 19
Thursday, January 20
Friday, January 21
Saturday, January 22
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Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you must have a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger and deeper Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use your charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the more detailed and descriptive Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so — not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury (still magnitude –0.3) is sinking back into the glow of dawn this week (for skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere). Look for it low in the southeast, far lower left of bright Venus — the earlier in the week the better.
Venus (magnitude –4.5) blazes as the "Morning Star" in the southeast before and during dawn. In fact Venus rises some two hours before the first glimmer of dawn (for mid-northern latitudes) — a weird UFO of a thing low in the east-southeast. Once Venus is well up, look for much fainter Antares about 8° to its lower right or right.
Mars remains lost behind the glare of the Sun, and will be for months to come.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.2, at the Pisces-Aquarius border) shines well up in the southwest as the stars come out bit sinks lower later. It sets around 10 p.m. now. Get your telescope on it right at dusk when it's still high. Jupiter has shrunk to only 37 arcseconds wide as Earth rounds to the far side of the Sun from it. But do keep watch on Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt re-forming, a process that began in November.
Jupiter's Great Red Spot is near System II longitude 157°. Assuming it stays there, here are all of the Great Red Spot's predicted transit times until Jupiter disappears for the season.
Saturn (magnitude +0.7, in Virgo) rises around 11 or midnight but is best seen in a telescope highest in the south before dawn. Don't confuse Saturn with Spica below or lower left of it.
In a telescope, Saturn's gigantic new white spot has spread far around the planet! See our article Saturn's New Bright Storm. Here are predicted transit times (through January 27th) for when the storm's original outbreak site crosses the center of Saturn's disk as seen from Earth.
Saturn's rings, meanwhile, have widened to 10° from edge on, the widest they've appeared since 2007. And see how many of Saturn's satellites you can identify in your scope using our Saturn's Moons tracker.
Uranus (magnitude 5.9) moves from 1.4&%176; to 2.4° west of Jupiter this week. (Actually, it's Jupiter that's moving east.)
Neptune (magnitude 7.9, at the Capricornus-Aquarius border) is sinking into the sunset.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon — including the words up, down, right, and left — are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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