Some daily events in the changing sky for January 2 – 10.
Friday, January 2
The best chance of catching the shower's peak, due to its timing, will be from the Pacific time zone of North America. The Moon conveniently sets in late evening before the good meteor-watching hours begin. See the January Sky & Telescope, page 71, for more.
Saturday, January 3
Sunday, January 4
Monday, January 5
Tuesday, January 6
Wednesday, January 7
Thursday, January 8
Friday, January 9
Saturday, January 10
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 (magnitude –0.6) having a fine evening apparition low in the southwest after sunset, very far to the lower right of Venus. Jupiter remains visible below Mercury early in the week; see the twilight scenes above, and bring binoculars.
Venus (magnitude –4.5) is the dazzling "Evening Star" in the southwest during and after twilight. In a telescope Venus is now 21 arcseconds wide and even nearer to dichotomy than in the December 28th image at right (taken in ultraviolet light).
Venus will be exactly 50% illuminated, as seen from Earth, on the evening of January 16th. But because the sunlight illumination is dimmer at the terminator, in a telescope the waning Venus usually looks exactly half-lit 5 or 10 days earlier than when it really is. How well can you determine the date of apparent dichotomy? Telescopically, Venus is best seen in bright twilight or even broad daylight (it's less glary then).
Mars remains hidden deep in the glare of sunrise.
Jupiter (magnitude –1.9) is sinking below the horizon far to Venus's lower right, and a little to the lower right of Mercury. Look for it early in the week, and bring binoculars.
Saturn (magnitude +1.0, near the Leo-Virgo border) rises around 10 p.m. and is highest in the south around 4 a.m. Don't confuse Saturn with similarly-bright Regulus 22° (about two fist-widths at arm's length) to its upper right after they rise, and directly to its right after 4 a.m.
This week Saturn's rings are 0.8° or 0.9° from edge on, essentially unchanged from last week's minimum (can you detect any difference?). 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 in conjunction with the Sun.
Saturn will again be poorly placed for our next ring-plane crossing 15 years hence. So now is the thinnest you can see Saturn's rings until 2038! (I intend to be healthy and at the eyepiece then at age 87, but you never know.)
Uranus and Neptune (magnitudes 5.9 and 7.9, respectively, in Aquarius and Capricornus) are in the southwest right after dark. Neptune is near Venus. Use our article and finder charts online or the chart in the September Sky & Telescope, page 63.
Pluto is hidden in the glow of sunrise.
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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