For January 2018, the largest "supermoon" of the year is on New Year’s evening’s full moon, only 221,000 miles from earth, and as big as it can appear in our sky. The celestial fireworks continue with the Quadrantid meteor shower, peaking on the morning of January 4th. The meteors will appear to come out of the NE sky. The last quarter moon
is on January 8th, and the waning crescent moon passes just above a nice conjunction of Mars and Jupiter in the morning sky on January 11th. The slender waning crescent lies just above Saturn and Mercury in the dawn on January 14th. The new moon is January 16th. First quarter moon is in the evening sky on January 24th, and the second full moon of January, a "Blue
Moon", is on January 31st. Note the due to only having 28 days, this year February will have no full moons during the whole month, a very rare occurrence.
Mercury is visible in SE dawn sky in January, reaching greatest elongation 23 degrees west of the rising sun on January 1st . It passes 1.1 degrees from Saturn on January 12th. Two days earlier, Mars passes only .3 degrees from much brighter Jupiter, both rising about 3 a.m. However, Mars and the Earth will be unusually close this July, and
for several weeks this summer, Mars will be even brighter than Jupiter, something that has not happened since 2003. Venus lies behind the Sun all month, and is not visible again until the twilight in February.
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. Also in Perseus is the California Nebula, a huge star forming region nearby in our own spiral arm of the galaxy.
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 from West Florida. You must be in south Florida to spot Alpha Centauri on June evenings. Below Sirius in binoculars is
another fine open cluster, M-41, a fitting dessert for New Year’s sky feast.