Friday, December 31
Saturday, January 1
Sunday, January 2
Monday, January 3
Tuesday, January 4
Wednesday, January 5
Thursday, January 6
Friday, January 7
Saturday, January 8
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Want to become a better amateur astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.
For an easy-to-use constellation guide covering the whole evening sky, use the big monthly map in the center of each issue of Sky & Telescope, the essential magazine of astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).
Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you must have a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and the even larger and deeper Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use your charts effectively.
You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, or the more detailed and descriptive Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the classic if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.
Can a computerized telescope take their place? I don't think so not for beginners, anyway, and especially not on mounts that are less than top-quality mechanically. As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their Backyard Astronomer's Guide, "A full appreciation of the universe cannot come without developing the skills to find things in the sky and understanding how the sky works. This knowledge comes only by spending time under the stars with star maps in hand."
This Week's Planet Roundup
Mercury is having an excellent morning apparition for skywatchers in the Northern Hemisphere. Look for it shining at magnitude 0 low in the east-southeast about an hour before your local sunrise time. It's very far to the lower left of bright Venus. Look also for fainter Antares, more directly below Venus; see the sky scene at the top of this page.
Venus (magnitude 4.6) blazes as the "Morning Star" in the southeast before and during dawn. In fact Venus rises some two hours before the first glimmer of dawn (for mid-northern latitudes) a weird UFO of a thing in the east-southeast. In a telescope, once it gets higher, Venus appears almost exactly half-lit: at dichotomy.
Look for Saturn and Spica very far to Venus's upper right in the south, and Arcturus even higher above Venus.
Mars is lost in the glow of sunset.
Jupiter (magnitude 2.3, at the Pisces-Aquarius border) shines in the south during twilight and southwest later in the evening, still the brightest starlike point in the evening sky. But it now sets by about 11 p.m. In a telescope Jupiter has shrunk to only 38 arcseconds wide as Earth rounds to the far side of the Sun from it. But keep watch anyway on Jupiter's South Equatorial Belt re-forming, as dark markings spread east and west all around the globe from the storm spot that broke out in the SEB's latitude in November.
Jupiter's Great Red Spot is near System II longitude 157°. Assuming it stays there, here's a list to print out of all the Great Red Spot's predicted transit times for the rest of this observing season.," he writes. South is up." credits="Donald C. Parker" width="" height="" align="right"]
Saturn (magnitude +0.8, in Virgo) rises around midnight or 1 a.m. but is best seen in a telescope high in the south-southeast to south before and during dawn (far upper right of brilliant Venus). Don't confuse Saturn with Spica below or lower left of it.
In a telescope, Saturn's new white spot has grown and spread far around the planet! See our article Saturn's New Bright Storm. Here are the predicted transit times of the storm's original outbreak site across the center of Saturn's disk.
Saturn's rings, meanwhile, have widened to 10° from edge-on, the widest they've appeared since 2007. And see how many of Saturn's satellites you can identify in your scope using our Saturn's Moons tracker.
Uranus (magnitude 5.9) is within 0.7° of Jupiter this week! They're in conjunction, 0.5° apart, on January 3rd and 4th, with Uranus north of Jupiter.
Neptune (magnitude 7.9, at the Capricornus-Aquarius border) is still up in the southwest right after dark, near Mu Capricorni. See our finder charts for Uranus and Neptune online or (with article) in the September Sky & Telescope, page 56.
All descriptions that relate to your horizon including the words up, down, right, and left are written for the world's mid-northern latitudes. Descriptions that also depend on longitude (mainly Moon positions) are for North America. Eastern Standard Time (EST) equals Universal Time (also known as UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.
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