Sky Highlights of 2008
January to March
The New Year begins with plenty of celestial action. Check out brilliant Mars in January, February’s total lunar eclipse, and a planetary dance at dawn in February and early March.
On December 18, 2007, Mars passed within 55 million miles (88 million kilometers) of Earth; close but not as close as in 2003. Still, as 2008 opens, the red planet remains nearby and is visible as a bright, reddish beacon shining at magnitude –1.5 near the Taurus/Gemini border. During January, large backyard telescopes will still reveal a satisfying amount of detail, but Mars is receding, so don’t delay your observations.
Also in January the Quadrantid meteor shower peaks. This is a short but strong display — up to 100 meteors per hour might be seen after midnight on the 4th. And between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m. Eastern Standard Time on January 18th, the 10-day-old Moon slides past the Pleiades Star Cluster. Binoculars and small telescopes provide the best views.
Don’t neglect the dawn sky. In early February two brilliant worlds Venus and Jupiter appear close together, low in the southeast at dawn. They’re joined by the crescent Moon on the 4th. During the month Jupiter moves up and away from Venus, which is joined by Mercury at month’s end.
In early March the crescent Moon passes Jupiter on the 2nd and 3rd, and parks itself next to Venus and Mercury on the 5th. During the afternoon of the 5th, the thin lunar crescent occults (hides) Venus for viewers in central Canada and most of the United States. It’s a daytime event, so you'll need a telescope to see it. But be very careful not to point your telescope at the Sun nearby, or you may be blinded for life.