Some daily events in the changing sky for January 23 – 31.
Comet Lulin remains about magnitude 7.0 as it rises rapidly higher in the southeast to south before dawn. Small-telescope users are spotting it easily, with the Moon now gone from the morning sky. The comet is moving toward Earth and should reach 5th magnitude in late February. Full story and charts.
Friday, January 23
Saturday, January 24
Sunday, January 25
Monday, January 26
Tuesday, January 27
Wednesday, January 28
Thursday, January 29
Friday, January 30
Saturday, January 31
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 foldout map in 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'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of maps; the standards are Sky Atlas 2000.0 or the smaller Pocket Sky Atlas) and good deep-sky guidebooks (such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the even more detailed Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic Burnham's Celestial Handbook). Read how to use them effectively.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? 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 and a curious mind." Without these, they note, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is hidden deep in the sunrise glare for most of the week. But by about January 30th, try looking for it just above the east-southeast horizon about 30 minutes before sunup. Bring binoculars.
Venus (magnitude –4.6, near the Circlet of Pisces) is the dazzling "Evening Star" high in the southwest during and after twilight. It doesn't set until about 9 p.m. In a telescope Venus is now 27 arcseconds wide and 46% sunlit, just on the crescent side of dichotomy. Telescopically, Venus is best seen in bright twilight or even broad daylight. (It's less glary when seen against a bright sky, and it's also higher.)
Mars is hidden deep in the glow of sunrise — and will remain so all winter and into the spring.
Jupiter is lost in the sunset. It's at superior conjunction with the Sun on January 24th.
Saturn (magnitude +1.0, near the hind foot of Leo) rises around 9 p.m. It's highest in the south around 3 or 4 a.m. Don't confuse Saturn with similarly-bright Regulus 21° (about two fist-widths at arm's length) to its upper right after they rise, and more directly to its right in the early-morning hours.
This week Saturn's rings are still only 1.1° to 1.2° from edge on. The view in a telescope is almost alarming: The rings are not only very narrow but quite dim, as seen at right, and Saturn's globe is slashed by the dark black line of the rings' shadow.
The rings will gradually open to 4° by late May, then will close to exactly edge-on early next September — when, unfortunately, Saturn will be out of sight practically in conjunction with the Sun.
Uranus (magnitude 5.9, in Aquarius) is near Venus early in the week, below it later.
Neptune is lost in the sunset.
Pluto is low in the southeast just before the start of dawn.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon or zenith — 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 (known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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