Some daily events in the changing sky for January 7 – 16.
Thursday, January 7
Friday, January 8
Saturday, January 9
Sunday, January 10
In northeasternmost North America (northeast of a line from Boston through the Adirondacks past Ottawa to northern Ontario) the Moon occults Antares, more or less around the time of sunrise. For this you'll need a telescope. See our article and map.
The grazing-occultation line goes right through downtown Boston. There, "the Sun will be about 3° above the horizon and Antares will be about 19° up," writes David Dunham of the International Occultation Timing Association. "Observers in eastern Massachusetts should set up their telescopes and start observing Antares a half hour before sunrise, then track the star to the event, since Antares and the thin crescent Moon will be hard to find after sunrise."
Monday, January 11
Tuesday, January 12
Wednesday, January 13
Thursday, January 14
Friday, January 15
Saturday, January 16
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'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts; 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 more detailed and descriptive 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? 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 and a curious mind." Without these, "the sky never becomes a friendly place."
More beginners' tips: "How to Start Right in Astronomy".
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury emerges low in the dawn late this week. Look for it very low in the southeast. Binoculars help. Next week it'll be easier.
Venus is hidden behind the glare of the Sun.
Mars, shining fiery bright at magnitude –1.0, now rises in the east-northeast as early as 7 p.m. local time. It's at the Leo-Cancer border; watch for it far below Castor and Pollux and a bit to the left. About an hour later, dimmer Regulus rises about a fist-width beneath it. By 2 a.m. Mars is at its highest due south.
In a telescope Mars is 13.5 arcseconds wide, nearly as large as it will become during this apparition. The big, white north polar cap is in fine view, as seen here, bordered by a very wide dark zone. Identify other surface features that you can make out using the Mars map and observing guide in the December Sky & Telescope, page 57. Mars will pass closest to Earth on January 27th, when it will be 14.1 arcseconds wide.
Jupiter (magnitude –2.1, at the Capricornus-Aquarius border) shines in the southwest in twilight and sinks lower as night comes on. It sets around 8 p.m. local time.
Saturn (magnitude +0.9, in Virgo) rises in the east around 11 p.m. and stands highest in the south before the first light of dawn. In earliest dawn, notice the huge, horizontal line of Pollux, Mars, Regulus, Saturn, and Spica running all the way from west-northwest to south. In a telescope Saturn's rings are tilted 5° from edge-on to us, their maximum tilt until next August.
Uranus (magnitude 5.9, just south of the Circlet of Pisces) is still in view right after dark well to the upper left of Jupiter. Use our finder chart.
Neptune (magnitude 8.0, in Capricornus) is lower right of Jupiter, sinking away into the twilight.
Pluto is behind the glare of the Sun.
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 (also known as UT, UTC, World Time, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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