Sky at a Glance | January 3rd, 2014

The Sun on Jan. 7, 2014
Active Region 1944 was almost dead center on the Sun's disk when Fred Espenak took this image on Tuesday January 7th. In the coming days it will move toward celestial west and then around the limb as the Sun rotates. Click for larger view and more information.

Update Wed­nes­day Jan. 8: Auroras possible early Thursday morning. A large coronal mass ejection (CME) from the Sun should start hitting Earth's magnetosphere around 8:00 UT January 9th (3 a.m. EST, midnight PST). Details.

The CME comes from a big sunspot region that's currently visible to the unaided eye through a safe solar filter or a #14 rectangular arc-welder's filter.


Friday, January 3

  • After sunset, look far to the lower right of the waxing crescent Moon for Venus, dropping lower every day. How many more days can you keep Venus in view? It will reach inferior conjunction, 5° north of the Sun, on January 11th.

    Saturday, January 4

  • Soon after dark, Sirius, the Dog Star, rises below Orion. And Procyon, the Little Dog Star, rises to the lower right of bright Jupiter. Which of them comes up first? It's Procyon if you're north of latitude 30° (Tijuana, New Orleans, Jacksonville), and Sirius if you're south of there.

    Hint: "Procyon" means "Before the Dog." That tells you something about where its namers lived.

    Sunday, Jan­u­ary 5

  • Jupiter is at opposition. All week it’s at its biggest and brightest for 2014, and it will appear nearly as big all month. Read all about observing Jupiter in the January Sky & Telescope. See also the short version online, Jupiter: Big, Bright, and Beautiful.

  • Algol in Perseus, the prototype eclipsing binary star, should be in one of its periodic dimmings, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple hours centered on 8:24 p.m. EST. Algol takes several additional hours to fade and to rebrighten. Use our comparison-star chart.

    Monday, Jan­u­ary 6

  • Jupiter’s Great Red Spot crosses the planet’s central meridian around 9:53 p.m. EST.

    Tuesday, Jan­u­ary 7

  • First-quarter Moon (exact at 10:39 p.m. EST). Look to the right of the Moon this evening for the Great Square of Pegasus, tipped up onto one corner. The main line of Andromeda’s stars extends up from its top.

    Wednes­day, Jan­u­ary 8

  • Jupiter’s moon Europa crosses Jupiter’s face from 6:47 to 9:29 p.m. EST, with its shadow following just 10 minutes behind.

    Thursday, January 9

  • In this coldest time of the year, the dim Little Dipper hangs straight down from Polaris after dinnertime as if (per Leslie Peltier) from a nail on the cold north wall of the sky.

    Early evening view
    The waxing gibbous Moon shines above Aldebaran, skimming the northern part of the Hyades cluster, on the evening of the 11th. (The Moon's positions are plotted for the middle of North America. The Moon is shown three times actual size.)

    Friday, January 10

  • Look left of the Moon at nightfall for the Pleiades, as shown here. The Pleiades are straight above the Moon by about 8 or 9.

  • Bright Capella high overhead and bright Rigel in Orion's foot, both magnitude 0, have almost the same right ascension — so they cross your sky’s north-south meridian at almost the same time. Capella passes closest to straight overhead around 10 p.m., depending on how far east or west you live in your time zone. (It goes exactly through the zenith if you're at latitude 46° north: Portland, Oregon; Montreal; central France.) So, when Capella is passing closest to the zenith, Rigel always marks true south over your landscape.

    Saturday, January 11

  • Aldebaran shines below the Moon at dusk, as shown here. It's left of the Moon by about 11 p.m.

  • Jupiter’s Great Red Spot transits Jupiter’s central meridian around 9:30 p.m. EST.

  • Venus is at inferior conjunction, passing 5° north of the Sun today.


    Want to become a better astronomer? Learn your way around the constellations. They're the key to locating everything fainter and deeper to hunt with binoculars or a telescope.

    This is an outdoor nature hobby. 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 guide to astronomy. Or download our free Getting Started in Astronomy booklet (which only has bimonthly maps).

    Pocket Sky Atlas
    The Pocket Sky Atlas plots 30,796 stars to magnitude 7.6 — which may sound like a lot, but that's less than one star in an entire telescopic field of view, on average. By comparison, Sky Atlas 2000.0 plots 81,312 stars to magnitude 8.5, typically one or two stars per telescopic field. Both atlases include many hundreds of deep-sky targets — galaxies, star clusters, and nebulae — to hunt among the stars.
    Sky & Telescope

    Once you get a telescope, to put it to good use you'll need a detailed, large-scale sky atlas (set of charts). The standards are the little Pocket Sky Atlas, which shows stars to magnitude 7.6; the larger and deeper Sky Atlas 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 8.5); and once you know your way around, the even larger Uranometria 2000.0 (stars to magnitude 9.75). And read how to use sky charts with a telescope.

    You'll also want a good deep-sky guidebook, such as Sue French's Deep-Sky Wonders collection (which includes its own charts), Sky Atlas 2000.0 Companion by Strong and Sinnott, the bigger Night Sky Observer's Guide by Kepple and Sanner, or the beloved if dated Burnham's Celestial Handbook.

    Can a computerized telescope replace charts? Not for beginners, I don't think, and not on mounts and tripods that are less than top-quality mechanically (able to point with better than 0.2° repeatability, which means heavy and expensive). As Terence Dickinson and Alan Dyer say in their invaluable 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

    Mars on Jan. 6, 2014
    Gibbous Mars was still just 7.1 arcseconds from pole to pole on January 6th when Don Parker in Florida imaged it with a 16-inch reflector. South is up. Note the North Polar Cap with hints of a rift already developing, the morning clouds near the following (celestial east; right-hand) limb, the haze visible over the dark Syrtis Major region on the opposite (preceding) limb, and distinctive Sinus Sabaeus with two-pronged Sinus Meridiani in the south.
    Donald C. Parker

    Mercury is hidden deep in the glow of sunset.

    Venus (magnitude –4 or –3) is dropping to the southwest horizon after sunset. It passes through inferior conjunction, 5° north of the Sun, on January 11th. Seen with optical aid it's a hairline crescent a mere 2% sunlit or less. But it's big! —about 60 arcseconds in diameter.

    The best time to observe Venus in a telescope is well before sunset. Hide the Sun behind a building so you can't accidentally sweep it into your view. Read our article See Venus's Thin Crescent.

    Mars (magnitude +0.8, in Virgo) rises around midnight. It's highest in the south before the first light of dawn, with Spica to its lower left. In a telescope Mars is still quite small, 7 arcseconds in diameter.

    Jupiter on January 9–10, 2014
    Jupiter on the night of January 9–10, taken from New Hampshire by S&T's imaging editor Sean Walker. South is up. The Great Red Spot, unusually strong orange this season, is obvious even near the limb. Following (celestial east) of it is a long, diminishing series of white swirls in the South Equatorial Belt. Notice the tight trio of white ovals in the South South Temperate Belt, and the blue festoons in the Equatorial Zone.
    S&T: Sean Walker

    Jupiter (magnitude –2.7, in central Gemini) is at opposition on January 5th: opposite the Sun, rising at sunset and highest around midnight, and shining its brightest and closest of the year. It blazes in the east during evening, the brightest point in the sky. Castor and Pollux are to its left, and fainter Gamma Geminorum is a similar distance to its right.

    In a telescope Jupiter remains 47 arcseconds wide through the first half of January. See lots about observing Jupiter in the January Sky & Telescope.

    Saturn (magnitude +0.6, in Libra) is well up the southeast as dawn begins to brighten. Look for it far to the lower left of Mars and Spica, and far below brighter Arcturus.

    Uranus (magnitude 5.8, in Pisces) is still high in the south-southwest right after dark.

    Neptune (magnitude 7.9, in Aquarius) is getting low in the southwest after dark. Finder charts for Uranus and Neptune.


    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) is Universal Time (UT, UTC, or GMT) minus 5 hours.


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