Early evening view

The waxing gibbous Moon shines above Aldebaran, skimming the northern part of the Hyades cluster, on the evening of the 11th. (The Moon's positions are plotted for the middle of North America. The Moon is shown three times actual size.)


Friday, January 10

  • Look left of the Moon at nightfall for the Pleiades, as shown here. The Pleiades are straight above the Moon by about 8 or 9.
  • Bright Capella high overhead, and bright Rigel in Orion's foot (both magnitude 0), are at almost the same right ascension. So they cross your sky’s north-south meridian at almost the same time. Capella now passes closest to straight overhead around 10 p.m., depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. (It goes exactly through the zenith if you're at latitude 46° north: Portland, Oregon; Montreal; central France.) Whenever Capella is passing closest to the zenith, Rigel always marks true south over your landscape.

    Saturday, January 11

  • Aldebaran shines below the Moon at dusk, as shown here. It swings around to the left of the Moon by about 11 p.m.
  • Jupiter’s Great Red Spot transits Jupiter’s central meridian around 9:30 p.m. EST.
  • Venus is at inferior conjunction, passing 5° north of the Sun today.

    Sunday, January 12

  • The bright gibbous Moon shines in a particularly starry part of the sky. After dinnertime, look upper right of the Moon for Aldebaran, below the Moon for Betelgeuse in Orion's leftmost corner, farther upper left of it for Capella, and far lower left of the Moon for bright Jupiter in the middle of Gemini.

    Dusk view

    Jupiter and the Moon are both not far from opposition on January 14th and 15th. (These scenes are drawn for the middle of North America. European observers: move each Moon symbol a quarter of the way toward the one for the previous date. In the Far East, move it halfway.)


    Monday, January 13

  • Betelgeuse is lower right of the Moon this evening. Jupiter is to the Moon's lower left, with Pollux on beyond. Look far under the Moon for Procyon.

    Tuesday, January 14

  • Jupiter shines left of the nearly full Moon early this evening. Ganymede, the largest and brightest moon of Jupiter itself, slowly emerges out of eclipse from Jupiter's shadow around 10:21 p.m. EST. With a telescope, watch for this happening just off Jupiter's eastern limb.

    Wednesday, January 15

  • Full Moon (exact at 11:52 p.m. EST). This is the smallest full Moon of 2014. Jupiter shines above it in early evening. As the evening grows late, Jupiter swings to the Moon's upper right.

    Thursday, January 16

  • As the Moon climbs up in the east, spot Procyon to its upper right, bright Jupiter higher above them, and Sirius far right of the Moon in the southeast, under Orion.

    Friday, January 17

  • As the stars come out, face north and look very high overhead for Cassiopeia, oriented now like a flattened letter M. As the night proceeds, it swings down in the northwest tilting sideways.

    Saturday, January 18

  • This the Big Dipper's time of year to swing up from the low north-northeast after dusk to stand on its handle in the northeast by about 9 p.m.

    Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

    This is an outdoor nature hobby. 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 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 once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.

    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 not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means heavy and expensive). 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

    The Sun on Jan. 7, 2014

    Active Region 1944 was almost dead center on the Sun's disk when Fred Espenak took this image last Tuesday January 7th. It's now moving toward the western limb as the Sun rotates. Click for larger view.

    Fred Espenak / astropixels.com

    Mars on Jan. 6, 2014

    Gibbous Mars was still just 7.1 arcseconds from pole to pole on January 6th when Don Parker in Florida imaged it with a 16-inch reflector. South is up. Note the North Polar Cap with hints of a rift already developing, morning clouds near the following (celestial east; right-hand) limb, haze visible over the dark Syrtis Major region on the opposite (preceding) limb, and in the south, distinctive Sinus Sabaeus ending with two-pronged Sinus Meridiani.

    Donald C. Parker

    Jupiter on January 9–10, 2014

    Jupiter on the night of January 9–10, taken from New Hampshire by S&T's imaging editor Sean Walker. South is up. The Great Red Spot, unusually strong orange this season, is obvious even near the limb. Following (celestial east) of it is a long, diminishing series of white swirls in the South Equatorial Belt. Notice the tight trio of white ovals in the South South Temperate Belt, and the blue festoons in the Equatorial Zone.

    S&T: Sean Walker

    The Sun: A big active sunspot region, AR 1944, is visible to the unaided eye through a safe solar filter (or a #14 rectangular arc-welder's filter) for the first few days this week. It rotates closer toward the Sun's celestial western limb each day.

    Mercury and Venus are in hidden the glare of the Sun. Venus passes through inferior conjunction, 5° north of the Sun, on January 11th.

    Mars (magnitude +0.7, in Virgo) rises around midnight. It's highest in the south before the first light of dawn, with Spica shining to its lower left. In a telescope Mars is still small, about 7 arcseconds wide.

    Jupiter (magnitude –2.7, in central Gemini) is just past its January 5th opposition. It glares low in the east as twilight fades, then rises higher in the east all evening — with Castor to its left, Pollux to its lower left, and fainter Gamma Geminorum to its right. It blazes highest in the middle of the night and low in the west at the beginning of dawn.

    In a telescope Jupiter remains a big 47 arcseconds wide. Read much about observing Jupiter in the January Sky & Telescope or the brief item online: Jupiter: Big, Bright, and Beautiful.

    Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Libra) is well up in the southeast as dawn begins to brighten. Look for it far to the lower left of Mars and Spica, and even farther below brighter Arcturus.

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

    Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) is getting 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) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.

    "Science is built up of facts, as a house is with stones. But a collection of facts is no more a science than a heap of stones is a house."
    — Henri Poincaré (1854–1912)

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