For January 2016, the Moon will be last quarter on January 2nd. It will interfere greatly with the peak for Quadrantid Meteor Shower on the following morning, with perhaps 30 meteors per hour coming out of the NE in the morning sky. The first week of 2016 finds the moon waning in the morning sky. The waning crescent moon sits 3 degrees
south of Venus and Saturn on January 6th. The new moon is on January 9th, and begins the Chinese New Year. The first quarter moon is on January 16th, and the full moon, the moon of the breaking branches in Woods Indian Lore, is on January 23rd. The waning gibbous moon passes 1.4 degrees south of Jupiter, with both rising about 10 PM, on January 27th.
While the naked eye, dark adapted by several minutes away from any bright lights, is a wonderful instrument to stare up into deep space, far beyond our own Milky Way, binoculars are better for spotting specific deep sky objects. For a detailed map of northern hemisphere skies, about December 30th visit the www.skymaps.com website and
download the map for January 2016; it will have a more extensive calendar, and list of best objects for the naked eyes, binoculars, and scopes on the back of the map. There is wonderful video exploring the January sky, from the Hubble ST website at: http://hubblesite.org/explore_astronomy/tonights_sky/.
No visible planets grace the January evening skies. Mercury is too close to the sun all month. Venus passes by Saturn in Scorpius in the morning sky on January 6th. Mars is faint, and close to Spica in Virgo in the dawn. Jupiter is on the border between Leo and Virgo, rising just before midnight. Our featured astrophoto for January is the
winner of the Warren Jarvis Memorial Award at the October Pensacola Interstate Fair. EAAA member Rick Johnston made this fine montage of all the planets (including Pluto!), two asteroids, and two comets from his own astrophotos over ten years of work. What a wonderful solar system to live in!
The constellation Cassiopeia makes a striking W in the NW. She contains many nice star clusters for binocular users in her outer arm of our Milky Way, extending to the NE now. Her daughter, Andromeda, starts with the NE corner star of Pegasus’’ Square, and goes NE with two more bright stars in a row. It is from the middle star, beta
Andromeda, that we proceed about a quarter the way to the top star in the W of Cassiopeia, and look for a faint blur with the naked eye.
M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is the most distant object visible with the naked eye, lying about 2.5 million light years distant. Overhead is Andromeda’s hero, Perseus, rises. Between him and Cassiopeia is the fine Double Cluster, faintly visible with the naked eye and two fine binocular objects in the same field. Perseus contains the famed
eclipsing binary star Algol, where the Arabs imagined the eye of the gorgon Medusa would lie. It fades to a third its normal brightness for six out of every 70 hours, as a larger but cooler orange giant covers about 80% of the smaller but hotter and thus brighter companion as seen from Earth.
Look at Perseus’ feet for the famed Pleiades cluster; they lie about 400 light years distant, and over 250 stars are members of this fine group. East of the seven sisters is the V of stars marking the face of Taurus the Bull, with bright orange Aldebaran as his eye. The V of stars is the Hyades cluster, older than the blue Pleaides, but
about half their distance. Yellow Capella, a giant star the same temperature and color as our much smaller Sun, dominates the overhead sky. It is part of the pentagon on stars making up Auriga, the Charioteer (think Ben Hur). Several nice binocular Messier open clusters are found in the winter milky way here. East of Auriga, the twins, Castor and Pollux highlight
the Gemini. UWF alumni can associate the pair with Jason and the Golden Fleece legend, for they were the first two Argonauts to sign up on his crew of adventurers.
South of Gemini, Orion is the most familiar winter constellation, dominating the eastern sky at dusk. The reddish supergiant Betelguese marks his eastern shoulder, while blue-white supergiant Rigel stands opposite on his west knee. Just south of the belt, hanging like a sword downward, is M-42, the Great Nebula of Orion, an outstanding
binocular and telescopic stellar nursery. It is part of a huge spiral arm gas cloud, with active starbirth all over the place. You should be able to glimpse this stellar birthplace as a faint blur with just your naked eyes, and the larger your binoculars or telescope, the better the view becomes.
Last but certainly not least, in the east rise the hunter’s two faithful companions, Canis major and minor. Procyon is the bright star in the little dog, and rises minutes before Sirius, the brightest star in the sky. Sirius dominates the SE sky by 7 PM, and as it rises, the turbulent winter air causes it to sparkle with shafts of spectral
fire. Beautiful as the twinkling appears to the naked eye, for astronomers this means the image is blurry; only in space can we truly see "clearly now". At 8 light years distance, Sirius is the closest star we can easily see with the naked eye. Below Sirius in binoculars is another fine open cluster, M-41, a fitting dessert for New Year’s sky feast.