What's Up in the Night Sky?

January 2015 - Vol. 19, No. 1

Astra's Star Gate

This Month's Night Sky - NOTE: The next paragraph describes the sky as it appears at 10 pm EST (11 pm EDT) near mid- month. The sky also looks this way at 11 pm EST (midnight EDT) during the beginning of the month and at 9 pm EST (10 pm EDT) by month's end.

happy new year

Sirius (Canis Major), the brightest star in the night sky, shines brilliantly in the South. It forms the bottom leg of the Winter Triangle. The triangle's upper stars are reddish Betelgeuse (Orion) to the right and whitish Procyon (Canis Minor) on the left. Capella (Auriga) appears directly overhead later in the evening and you might even glimpse Canopus (Carina) very low (below Sirius) in the South. Looking North you will find the "Big Dipper" (Ursa Major) with its handle still pointing towards the horizon. Cassiopeia's famous "W" asterism is high in the Northwest and Regulus (Leo) shines in the East. Don't forget to look for Castor and Pollux (Gemini "twins") above the Winter Triangle.

MERCURY will be visible this month until the 24th, favoring observers in mid-northern latitudes. VENUS still low in the evening sky. JUPITER rises in the evening sky, approaching opposition on February 6. MARS moves from Capricornus into Aquarius. SATURN rises higher in the morning sky. URANUS sets before midnight. Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is expected to become as bright as 4th-magnitude and moving northward from the constellation of Lepus through the month. Get out your binoculars! The comet's perihelion date is January 30. Read more about it on Astra's comet page.

Review how to determine Angular Measurement.

Calendar of Events

NOTE: For those observers not in the ET zone, convert the calendar times to your zone's time by subtracting one hour for CT, two for MT and three for PT. Don't forget to adjust for Daylight Savings Time when necessary by subtracting one hour from your planisphere's time. Dawn and dusk times must also be corrected. See your local newspaper, TV news, or cable TV's Weather Channel for sunrise and sunset times. Unfortunately some of these events may occur during daylight hours in your area.

02 Aldebaran 1.4 deg S of Moon.
04 Earth at perihelion. Quadrantids meteor shower peak, this storm produces up to 120 meteors per hour however the moon will be an issue this year..
08 Jupiter 5 deg N. of Moon.
09 Moon at apogee.
16 Saturn 1.9 deg S. of Moon.
19 Mars .2 deg S. of Neptune.
21 Mercury 3 deg S. of the Moon. Moon at perigee.
23 Mars 4 deg S. of Moon. Observe after sunset.
22 Venus 6 deg S. of Moon. The moon will be a crescent above the southwest horizon.
25 Uranus .6 deg S. of Moon, this will be an occultation northern Africa, Middle East, parts of Europe.
29 Aldebaran 1.2 deg S of Moon.
30 Mercury at inferior conjunction.

Lunar Almanac for January 2015

Phases of the Moon Phase and Date(s) Best viewed before local midnight
new moon New
Deep Space Objects
first quarter moon 1st. Qtr
Planets & Moon
full moon Full
last quarter moon Last Qtr
Deep Space & Planets

Upcoming Celestial Events in 2015

Almanac of the Bright Planets

The year opens with a bright comet moving from the southern sky into a position that better favors observers in the northern hemisphere. Comet Lovejoy is discussed in greater detail on Astra's comet page. A bright moon early in January will interfere with observations, but the comet is anticipated to be naked eye brightness.

This year, Venus has moved into the evening sky and will be a show stopper for observers in the northern hemisphere as our sister planet moves toward inferior conjunction in mid-August. Venus and Mars will join up for 3 conjunctions this year. February 22-23, Venus and Mars will be joined by the moon during the closest of the three. This bright planet will pass by the Pleiades and Hyades in April, and move toward Jupiter in the month of June to reach a position that is a mere one-third of a degree away. A spectacular sight above the western horizon, Venus will shine at -4.7 magnitude in July. After inferior conjunction on August 15, she will once gain join Mars in the morning sky. In September, Venus reaches her brightest at -4.8 magnitude. Passing within a degree of Jupiter on October 26, she will top off the year's display with the third conjunction with Mars on November 3, 2015.

Mars hangs low on the southwestern horizon until April, vanishing into the Sun's glare until August. The red planet will be in conjunction with Regulus on September 24. Mars will be in conjunction with Jupiter on October 17 and will be hanging out with the two brightest planets of the solar system for several weeks.

Jupiter opens the year as the bright planet towering over the night sky, reaching opposition on February 4. Stationed in the northern end of the ecliptic, this apparition favors the northern hemisphere. During the month of June, Jupiter meets up with Venus as mentioned above. There are 2 conjunctions in the month of July as Jupiter rides low on the northwest horizon. Jupiter disappears in early August, not to be easily observed until mid-September. Back in action in the morning sky, the giant planet again joins Mars and Venus.

Saturn begins the year in the morning sky, the rings tilted about 25 degrees, increasing to 26 degrees in December. By March the ringed planet is rising at midnight. Opposition on May 23, means that the ringed planet will be visible most of the night in late Spring and early Summer, spending most of its time in Libra. By September, Saturn sets in the early evening. Conjunction with the Sun is on November 30, the ringed planet will reappear in the morning sky by year's end.

2015 Eclipse Line-Up

There is a total solar eclipse on March 20, visible in north Africa, Europe and eastern Asia. This eclipse will be best seen from the Faroe Islands and the Norwegian Svalbard archipelago, with a totality duration of 2 minutes 47 seconds. Next, there is a lunar eclipse on April 4 that is centered over the Pacific Ocean. It will be visible for Alaska, Japan, and late stages for North and South America, but not from Europe or Africa. The next eclipses is a partial solar eclipse visible from South Africa and Antarctica on September 13. The final eclipse of the year will be completely visible from South America, eastern North America, and west Africa. Crossing the southern portion of the Earth's umbra, the eclipse will take place on September 28.

Other Notes for 2015

This will be a great year for the Perseids, as the peak of the shower nearly coincides with the new Moon. The peak is at 6 hours UT on August 13, that is a Thursday night.

The September 28 total eclipse of the Moon will occur when the Moon is at perigee, its closest approach to the Earth. This, combined with the lineup of the Sun for the eclipse and the that Earth will be very close to equinox (September 23), very large tides are expected.

--See You Under the Stars!
Astra for Astra's Almanac

This installment of "Whats Up?" is ©2014 by Dawn Jenkins for Astra's Stargate. View Ron Leeseburg's Farewell Issue for information on where to find information such as is presented in this almanac.