Are You Game for a Dawn Conjunction?

Are you going to let the cold and early hour stop you from seeing Saturn's meeting with the Moon Friday morning? Of course not! 

The early bird gets an eyeful this Friday

Dawn observing can be cold and require more fortitude than evening skywatching.
Bob King

The bed's so warm, the hour so early. Will you brave the cold Friday morning to witness the conjunction of Saturn and the waning Moon? Allow me to be the little devil guy on your shoulder whispering "yes, do it!" in your ear.

Morning observing, especially in winter, can feel like a lonely solo climb. But I've found that once you've poked a leg out from under the covers and rubbed your eyes, you're halfway there. Don't forget to pull the curtain aside to make sure it's clear.

What better way to welcome Saturn back for its 2015 apparition than in the company of the slender Moon. Admit it, you're hungry to see those gorgeous rings that make the planet such a special destination.

If that wasn't enough, how many of us get to see a thick waning crescent Moon in our telescopes? Since I spend far more evenings observing the sky, the lay of the lunar landscape looks strangely unfamiliar during the waning phases. The shadows seem wrong in the same disorienting way as when we see the northern stars "upside down" from the southern hemisphere.

Welcome Saturn back Friday morning!

The waning crescent, four days from new, will pass only 1° north of Saturn at the start of morning twilight across North America Friday morning, January 16th. Look for the pair low in the southeastern sky 1-2 hours before sunrise.
Source: Stellarium

Saturn's wide-open rings a jaw-dropping sight

Saturn and its brightest moons around 6:30 a.m. (CST) Friday morning.The rings are tilted 24.7° this month, near their maximum.
Source: Stellarium

Lunar libration will have tilted a unique feature our way on Friday — Mare Orientale, a huge (mostly) farside multi-ringed impact basin that looks like a cosmic bulls-eye. Moats of mare lavas separating the concentric rings show as a series of dark, parallel stripes just inside the Moon's western edge. Look for them.

A bullseye basin, volcanic domes and lava-flooded crater highlight Friday morning's crescent Moon

The Moon on January 16th. I've highlighted several features including the dark-floored crater Grimaldi, which you can use to guide you to several Mare Orientale basin rings. Also highlighted are the brilliant rayed crater Byrgius, Marius, and the rich field of volcanic domes called the Marius Hills. Schickard is one of the Moon's larger craters at 141 miles across. Click to enlarge.
Left: Virtual Moon Atlas (Christian Legrand and Patrick Chevalley), right: NASA

Saturn and the Moon would seem reward enough for any intrepid dawn observer, but there's more. Drop just 1° below Saturn and you'll bump right into Beta (β) Scorpii, the southern version of the Big Dipper's Mizar. Both are among the prettiest double stars in the sky. Beta, or Graffias, shines at magnitude 2.6 with a 4.5 magnitude companion 13.6″ to the north-northeast. Both are radiant jewels like the summer season to which they belong; they split with ease in a 3-inch telescope.

A cozy couple double

This sketch nicely captures the appearance of Graffias in a small telescope.
Michael Vlasov

I could keep on going. The region is rich with globular clusters and additional double stars, but your fingers will be getting cold by now and the Sun will rise soon. Before you step back inside to thaw out, take a minute to look around at Lyra and Cygnus rising in the east, constellations that, along with Scorpius, herald the coming of summer. Soon enough winter will be behind us. Instead of the cold, mosquitoes will be doing the biting!

2 thoughts on “Are You Game for a Dawn Conjunction?

  1. Anthony BarreiroAnthony Barreiro

    Thanks Bob. For the past few weeks I’ve been enjoying watching Saturn climb higher in the pre-dawn sky as he creeps from Libra toward Scorpius. I haven’t looked at Saturn through a telescope yet during this apparition, mainly because he’s pretty low toward the south, and I would have to schlep my telescope around the corner to get a good view. But soon I will!

    Yes, the waning Moon looks very different than the waxing Moon, and every Moon map I’ve ever seen shows the Moon under consistent lunar eastern illumination, as she appears during her waxing phases. I wish Sky and Telescope would publish a Moon map with all the features depicted under consistent lunar western illumination, for use during the waning phases.

    1. Bob KingBob King Post author

      That’s a great idea for a different take on a Moon map. I hope Saturn soon rises high enough for you for a telescopic view.

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