Dawn view

With dawn coming its latest at this time of year, take a look outside for the waning Moon passing Spica and Saturn. (The Moon is positioned for the middle of North America. In Europe, move the Moon symbols a quarter of the way toward the one for the previous date.)

Sky & Telescope diagram

Friday, January 4

  • This morning we had the latest sunrise of the year (near 40° north latitude).
  • Last-quarter Moon tonight (exact at 10:58 p.m. EST). The Moon, between Corvus and the head of Virgo, rises around 11 or midnight. By dawn Saturday morning, the Moon is high in the south with Spica and Saturn widely to its left, as shown here.

    Saturday, January 5

  • Before dawn Sunday morning, Spica shines to the upper right of the waning Moon, and Saturn shines to the Moon's upper left, as shown here.

    Sunday, January 6

  • At this coldest time of the year, Sirius rises around 7 p.m. (depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone). Orion's three-star Belt points down almost to Sirius's rising place; watch for it there. Once Sirius is up, it twinkles slowly and deeply through the thick layers of low atmosphere, then faster and more shallowly as it gains altitude. Its flashes of color also speed up and blend into shimmering white as the star climbs to shine through thinner air.

    The crescent Moon meets Venus

    The waning crescent Moon appears lower each morning until dawn on Thursday, when it forms a spectacular pair with Venus very low in the southeast.

    Sky & Telescope diagram

    Monday, January 7

  • As dawn begins to brighten on Tuesday morning, spot the waning crescent Moon in the southeast. Below it is Antares, a summer-evening star just beginning its months-long trek backward through the night. Much farther lower left of the Moon, Venus rises. Higher in the south are Saturn and, two fists to Saturn's right, Spica.

    Tuesday, January 8

  • Jupiter's moon Io crosses Jupiter's face from 8:03 to 10:13 p.m. EST, followed by Io's tiny black shadow from 8:55 to 11:06 p.m. EST. Jupiter's Great Red Spot transits the planet's central meridian around 2:02 a.m. Wednesday morning EST. For all of Jupiter's satellite events and Great Red Spot transit times, good worldwide, get our new JupiterMoons app.
  • As dawn brightens early Wednesday morning, find the waning crescent Moon low in the southeast. Look to its right by roughly a fist-width at arm's length for Antares, as shown above, and well to its lower left for Venus rising.

    Wednesday, January 9

  • As dawn brightens Thursday morning, Venus shines near the hairline crescent Moon very low in the southeast, as shown above. Look well to their upper right for twinkly, fire-colored Antares.

    Thursday, January 10

  • Andromeda contains many more deep-sky sights than just the Andromeda Galaxy. From a carbon star to a cluster by the head of the Golf Putter, take a tour with Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders column and chart in the January Sky & Telescope, page 60.

    Friday, January 11

  • In early evening at this time of year, the Great Square of Pegasus balances on one corner high in the west. The vast Andromeda-Pegasus constellation complex runs all the way from near the zenith (Andromeda's foot) down through the Great Square (Pegasus's body) to low in the west (Pegasus's nose).
  • New Moon (exact at 2:44 p.m. EST).

    Saturday, January 12

  • As twilight turns to night, look low in the northwest for Vega. To its upper left, by two or three fists at arm's length, shines Deneb. Deneb is the head of the big Northern Cross, which is now swinging down and soon will stand nearly upright on the northwest horizon (as seen from midnorthern latitudes).

    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 diagram" target="new_window">Sky & Telescope, the essential guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).

    Pocket Sky Atlas

    The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but that's less than one star in an entire telescopic field of view, on average. By comparison, Sky Atlas 2000.0 plots 81,312 stars to magnitude 8.5, typically one or two stars per telescopic field. Both atlases include many hundreds of deep-sky targets — galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae — to hunt among the stars.

    Sky & Telescope

    Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope effectively.

    You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.

    Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and certainly not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable 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

    Jupiter in Taurus

    Watch Jupiter gradually creeping toward a better lineup between Aldebaran and the Pleiades. It won't quite get there, however. Instead it will gradually stop and reverse direction at the end of January, just short of forming a straight line. (The 10° scale is about the width of your fist held at arm's length.)

    Sky & Telescope diagram

    Mercury is hidden in the glare of the Sun.

    Venus (magnitude –3.9) appears lower in the dawn each morning. Look for it above the southeast horizon about 45 minutes before your local sunrise.

    Mars (magnitude +1.2, in Sagittarius) still glimmers low in the southwest in the fading glow of sunset. Don't confuse it with Fomalhaut far to its left.

    Jupiter (magnitude –2.7, in Taurus) is the first "star" to come out in the eastern sky after sundown. It climbs to dominate the high southeastern sky after dark, with orange Aldebaran below it and the Pleiades above it. Jupiter passes highest in the south around 9 p.m. local time. In a telescope it's still a big 47 or 46 arcseconds wide.

    Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Libra) rises in the east-southeast around 2 a.m. local time. By the beginning of dawn it's fairly high in the southeast. That's the best time to get your telescope on it. Saturn's rings are tilted 19° to our line of sight, the widest open they've been in seven years.

    Jupiter on Jan. 1, 2013

    The white turbulence following Jupiter's Great Red Spot, and unusual amounts of activity in the Equatorial Zone, are evident in this exquisite image taken on January 1st by Christopher Go in the Philippines. South is up.

    Christopher Go

    Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Pisces) is still in good view in the southwest right after dark. Finder chart.

    Neptune (magnitude 8.0, in Aquarius) is sinking away low in the west-southwest after dark.

    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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