Jan 07

What’s Up in the Sky

What’s Up in the Sky – January, 2013

January to Offer Simple Pleasures

When you get to be my age (old) seeing something for the first time can be a rare event, but I did just that in the past month.  On December 13 – 14 I observed the Geminid meteor shower with my friends Howard and Jon Lubbers.  Although the rate of meteors was low, the ones we did witness were almost all bright, fast streaks of light that clearly traced back to the constellation Gemini.  These were the first Geminid meteors I ever saw because it used to always be cloudy here in December.

Then, about an hour after sunset on the very next day, I saw a thin, yellowish streak of light behind some clouds over Lake Mac.  It was the Moon.  What made this special was that it was the “youngest” crescent Moon I had ever seen (the “age” of a crescent Moon refers to the amount of time since the Moon was New, in this case about a day and a half).

I was reminded that astronomy is not just looking at distant galaxies or Hubble photos.  There is plenty is interesting stuff to enjoy with no special knowledge or equipment.  You just have to know where and when to look.

Of course, some months are better than others and there is a certain amount of luck involved, but there is usually an easy candidate.  On Saturday, January 12 starting at about 5:30 p.m., look for a thin crescent Moon near the western horizon.  Use binoculars and if you spot it, scan about eight degrees to the left and try to find Mars.  This Moon is less than 30 hours “old”.  If you don’t have any luck on Saturday, try again on Sunday when the Moon will be easier to find and Mars will be below it.

In the same lunar/planetary spirit, watch the Moon pass Jupiter in the eastern sky after sunset from January 20 – 22.

Are you up for a challenge?  Google “Algol”, a variable star in the constellation Perseus that dims noticeably for a couple of hours every several days.  This will occur at convenient times on the 20th and the 23rd.  It will take a little research to know the exact time and location, but this is on my list of things I have not seen up in the sky.

This month in history:
Jan. 1:    asteroid Ceres discovered by Giuseppe Piazzi – 1801
Jan. 4:    NASA cancels further production of Saturn V rockets – 1970
Jan. 11:    Lunar Prospector spacecraft arrives at Moon – 1998
Jan. 20:    Edwin “Buzz” Aldrin born – 1930
Jan. 27:    Apollo 1 astronauts Chaffee, White and Grissom die in fire in capsule-1967
Jan. 28:    Seven astronauts killed when Space Shuttle Challenger explodes during launch – 1986
Jan. 31:    Explorer 1, first US satellite, launched – 1958