Skywatch: Year begins with two new moons in January

It’s a fast start for 2014: We’ll see shooting stars, Venus dancing with a new moon, and Earth getting close to the sun. Jupiter stays up all night, and we endure our latest sunrises.

With the full moon here Jan. 15 at 11:52 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (Jan. 16 at 4:52 a.m. Universal Time), according to the U.S. Naval Observatory, January features two new moons: Jan. 1 and Jan. 30. On the dusky evenings after new moons, look to western heavens to spy the sliver of a young moon.

After sunset Jan. 2, gaze low in the southwestern sky, where you’ll spy a bright Venus (-4.3 magnitude). Above Venus, you may catch the sliver of a new moon. About a week later, we lose the effervescent planet to the sun’s glare. Fear not: By the dawn of Jan. 20, early risers may be able to observe Venus emerging as a morning object low in the east-southeastern sky — ahead of the sun.

In the morning heavens, the glorious, ringed Saturn rises shortly in the east-southeast after 3 a.m., as the year begins. The zero magnitude (bright) large planet is found in the Libra constellation. By about 6 a.m. in early January, the planet hangs high in the southeast.

Mars — our friendly red neighbor — ascends the eastern sky about midnight now and transits high in the south about 6 a.m. It’s found at zero magnitude (bright) in the constellation Virgo.

The Quadrantid meteors peak Jan. 3, and with a young moon setting early, the evening leaves ample dark sky. At peak, the zenithal hourly rate is expected to be about 120 shooting stars an hour, according to the International Meteor Organization. With persistence and watching from a dark sky location, you may catch several. Be patient, and perhaps with a little luck, you may see meteors for a few days before and after the peak.

Since Earth’s orbit around the sun isn’t a perfect circle, our pale blue planet reaches perihelion (Earth’s closest distance to the sun) on Jan. 4. We’ll be about 91.4 million miles away. On average, the distance between these bodies is about 93 million miles. Earth reaches aphelion (the farthest distance from the sun) in July.

Giant, gaseous Jupiter reaches astronomical “opposition” on Jan. 5. From Earth’s perspective, Jupiter and the sun are opposite from each other — and we benefit by having bright Jupiter (-2.7 magnitude) visible all night long. Catch it early in the night loitering now in the east-northeastern sky. This big planet transits the southern sky just after midnight early in the month. By mid-January, Jupiter transits the south at about 11:30 p.m.

Between Dec. 31 and Jan. 10, Washington tolerates the latest sunrises of the year at 7:27 a.m., according to data from the Naval Observatory. The month starts with 9 hours and 30 minutes of daylight. By January’s end, we get 10 hours and 13 minutes of daylight.

Down to Earth events

Jan. 3: “Spirit and Opportunity: 10 Years Roving Across Mars,” a new exhibit opens celebrating the twin Mars Exploration Rovers Opportunity and the late Spirit, which helped humanity geologically grasp the Red Planet. Exhibit runs through Sept. 14. National Air and Space Museum, National Mall. www.airandspace.si.edu.

Jan. 5: “Aurora on Jupiter,” a lecture by astronomer Tim Livengood at the open house, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Catch the night heavens through telescopes afterward. 8 p.m. 301-405-6555. www.astro.umd.edu/
openhouse
.

Jan. 6: To see Washington’s winter heavens, no need to shiver. Enjoy “Stars Tonight” at the David M. Brown Planetarium, 1426 N. Quincy St., Arlington. 7:30 p.m. $3. www.friendsoftheplanetarium.
org
.

Jan. 6: “Sounds from Space,” musician and space-enthusiast Paul Hombach guides an acoustic tour through the universe at the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park. 8 p.m. www.montgomerycollege.edu/
departments/planet
.

Jan. 11: “Solar Loops: Tackling a 40-Year-Old Mystery,” astrophysicist Henry “Trae” Winter explains the spectacular loops that cover the sun’s outer atmosphere. Albert Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum, National Mall. 5:15 p.m. www.airandspace.
si.edu
.

Jan. 20: Open house, University of Maryland Observatory, College Park. Examine the cosmic heavens through telescopes afterward.
8 p.m. 301-405-6555. www.astro.umd.edu/openhouse.

Jan. 25: “River Deposits on Mars,” a lecture by geologist Sharon Wilson Purdy, at the Albert Einstein Planetarium, National Air and Space Museum, National Mall. 5:15 p.m. www.airandspace.si.edu.

Jan. 25: Learn the fantastic physical and amazing processes in how stars are born at the Montgomery College planetarium, Takoma Park. 7 p.m. www.montgomerycollege.edu/
departments/planet
.

Blaine Friedlander can be reached at postskywatch@gmail.com.

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