What’s Up – January 2017

Events of interest for January ….

Firstly, a very Happy New Year to everyone and I hope 2017 is …. astronomical   😉

JANUARY – Aurora season is in full swing – from now till around the end of March is the best time for viewing the northern lights here from the UK. Please visit our sister site AUK – Aurora UK for “real time” notifications.

1st January – MARS/NEPTUNE – Mars and Neptune will share the same right ascension, with Mars passing 0°01′ to the south of Neptune. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. From Scarborough, the pair will become visible at around 16:38 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 26° above your southern horizon. They will then sink towards the horizon, setting 5 hours and 32 minutes after the Sun at 21:15. Mars will be at mag 0.5, and Neptune at mag 7.9, both in the constellation Aquarius. The pair will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars.

2nd January – MOON/VENUS – The Moon and Venus will make a close approach, passing within 1°50′ of each other. The Moon will be 4 days old. From Scarborough, the pair will become visible at around 16:15 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 21° above your southern horizon. They will then sink towards the horizon, setting 4 hours and 20 minutes after the Sun at 20:05. The Moon will be at mag -10.7, and Venus at mag -5.0, both in the constellation Aquarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the two objects will also share the same right ascension – called a conjunction.

4th January – METEORS – The Quadrantid meteor shower will reach its maximum rate of activity on 4 January 2017. Some shooting stars associated with the shower are expected to be visible each night from 1 Jan to 6 Jan. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible is around 80 per hour (ZHR). However, this assumes a perfectly dark sky and that the radiant of the meteor shower is directly overhead. In practice, the number of meteors you are likely to see is lower than this, and can be calculated from the ZHR formula. From Scarborough, the radiant of the shower will appear 22° above your north-eastern horizon at midnight. This means you are likely to see only around 30 meteors per hour, since the radiant will be low in the sky, reducing the chance of seeing meteors. The radiant of the Quadrantid meteor shower is at around right ascension 15h30m, declination +50°, as shown by the green cross on the planetarium above. All of the meteors will appear to be travelling directly outward from this point, as indicated by the white lines drawn above. The Moon will be 6 days old at the time of peak activity, presenting minimal interference. To see the most meteors, the best place to look is not directly at the radiant itself, but at any dark patch of sky which is around 30–40° away from it. It is at a distance of around this distance from the radiant that meteors will show reasonably long trails without being too spread out.

5th January – MOON – Moon at 1st quarter from Scarborough, it will become visible at around 16:21 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 34° above your south-eastern horizon. It will then reach its highest point in the sky at 18:01, 38° above your southern horizon. It will continue to be observable until around 23:23, when it sinks to 8° above your western horizon.

10th January – MOON – Moon at perigee. The Moon will reach the closest point along its orbit to the Earth and will appear slightly larger than at other times. The Moon’s distance from the Earth varies because its orbit is not perfectly circular – it is instead slightly oval-shaped, tracing out a path called an ellipse. As the Moon traverses this elliptical path around the Earth each month, its distance varies by around 10%, between 363,000 km and 405,000 km. Its angular size also varies by the same factor, and its brightness also changes, though this is hard to detect in practice, given the Moon’s phases are changing at the same time. The exact period of the Moon’s cycle between perigee (closest approach), apogee (furthest recess) and back again is 27.555 days – a period of time called an anomalistic month. This is very close to the Moon’s orbital period (27.322 days), but slightly longer.  The perigee of 10 January 2017 will occur when the Moon is close to full phase, and so it will appear fractionally larger and brighter than usual. On this occasion the Moon will pass within a distance of 363,000 km of the Earth, and appear with an angular diameter of 32.88 arcsec. This may be compared to its average size of 31.07 arcmin.

12th January – FULL MOON – The Moon will reach full phase. At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, the Moon lies almost directly opposite the Sun in the sky, placing it high above the horizon for much of the night. The sequence of full moons through the year are often assigned names according to the seasons in which they fall. This month’s will be the first to fall in winter 2017 – the Old Moon. Over the nights following 12 January, the Moon will rise around an hour later each day, becoming prominent later in the night. Within a few days, it will only be visible in the pre-dawn and early-morning sky. By the time it reaches last quarter, a week after full moon, it will rise at around midnight and set at around noon. At the exact moment when the Moon reaches full phase, it will lie at a declination of +18°13′ in the constellation Gemini , and so will appear highest in the northern hemisphere. It will be visible from all latitudes south of 61°S. Its distance from the Earth will be 366,000 km.

12th January – VENUS –  Venus at Greatest Eastern Elongation. The planet Venus reaches greatest eastern elongation of 47.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Venus since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the evening sky. Look for the bright planet in the western sky after sunset.

13th January – VENUS/NEPTUNE – Venus and Neptune will share the same right ascension, with Venus passing 0°24′ to the north of Neptune. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse.
From Scarborough, the pair will become visible at around 16:28 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 25° above your southern horizon. They will then sink towards the horizon, setting 4 hours and 31 minutes after the Sun at 20:30. Venus will be at mag -5.2, and Neptune at mag 7.9, both in the constellation Aquarius. The pair will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars.

14th January – STAR CLUSTER – The open star cluster M47 (NGC 2422) in Puppis will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -14°30′, it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 55°N and 84°S. From Scarborough, it will be visible between 22:33 and 01:29. It will become accessible at around 22:33, when it rises 18° above your south-eastern horizon, and then reach its highest point in the sky at 23:59, 21° above your southern horizon. It will become inaccessible at around 01:29 when it sinks to 18° above your southern horizon. At magnitude 4.4, M47 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

14th January – SPIRAL GALAXY – NGC 2403, a spiral galaxy in Camelopardalis will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of +65°35′, it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much south of 4°S. From Scarborough, it will be very well placed – it will be close enough to the north celestial pole that it will be high above the horizon all night. At magnitude 8.4, NGC2403 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

14th January – COMET – Comet 74P/Smirnova-Chernykh is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 12.9. It will lie at a distance of 3.76 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 2.79 AU from the Earth. From Scarborough, it will be visible between 17:49 and 05:07. It will become accessible at around 17:49, when it rises 24° above your eastern horizon, and then reach its highest point in the sky at 23:26, 62° above your southern horizon. It will become inaccessible at around 05:07 when it sinks to 25° above your western horizon. For more information about its path across the sky, see In-The-Sky.org’s ephemeris page for comet 74P/Smirnova-Chernykh. This event was automatically generated on the basis of orbital elements published by the Minor Planet Center (MPC), and is updated daily (last update, 31 Dec 2016). Note that the future positions of comets are typically known with a high degree of confidence, but their brightnesses are often much more unpredictable, since it is impossible to predict with certainty how they will respond as they move closer to the Sun. Magnitude estimates should be assumed to be highly provisional more than a few weeks in advance.

19th January – MERCURY – Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation. The planet Mercury reaches greatest western elongation of 24.1 degrees from the Sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.

19th January – MOON/JUPITER – The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 2°33′ of each other. The Moon will be 21 days old. From Scarborough, the pair will be visible in the morning sky, becoming accessible at around 01:11, when they rise 7° above your south-eastern horizon. They will then reach its highest point in the sky at 05:31, 28° above your southern horizon. They will be lost to dawn twilight at around 07:41, 22° above your south-western horizon. The Moon will be at mag -12.0, and Jupiter at mag -2.1, both in the constellation Virgo. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

22nd January – MOON – Moon at apogee.  The Moon will reach the furthest point along its orbit to the Earth and will appear slightly smaller than at other times. The Moon’s distance from the Earth varies because its orbit is not perfectly circular – it is instead slightly oval-shaped, tracing out a path called an ellipse. As the Moon traverses this elliptical path around the Earth each month, its distance varies by around 10%, between 363,000 km and 405,000 km. Its angular size also varies by the same factor, and its brightness also changes, though this is hard to detect in practice, given the Moon’s phases are changing at the same time. The exact period of the Moon’s cycle between perigee (closest approach), apogee (furthest recess) and back again is 27.555 days – a period of time called an anomalistic month. This is very close to the Moon’s orbital period (27.322 days), but slightly longer. For more information on why these periods don’t exactly match, see In-The-Sky.org’s glossary article for the term month. As the apogee of 22 January 2017 will occur close to the time of new moon, the moon will appear as no more than a thin crescent. On this occasion the Moon will recede to a distance of 404,000 km from the Earth and appear with an angular diameter of 29.50 arcsec. This may be compared to its average size of 31.07 arcmin.

24th January – MOON/SATURN – The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 3°36′ of each other. The Moon will be 26 days old. From Scarborough, the pair will be difficult to observe as they will appear no higher than 10° above the horizon. They will be visible in the dawn sky, rising at 05:30 (GMT) – 2 hours and 33 minutes before the Sun – and reach an altitude of 10° above the south-eastern horizon before fading from view as dawn breaks at around 07:36. The Moon will be at mag -10.3, and Saturn at mag 0.3, both in the constellation Ophiuchus. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

28th January – NEW MOON – The Moon will pass close to the Sun and become lost in the Sun’s glare for a few days. The Moon’s orbital motion carries it around the Earth once every four weeks, and as a result its phases cycle from new moon, through first quarter, full moon and last quarter, back to new moon once every 29.5 days. This motion also means that the Moon travels more than 12° across the sky from one night to the next, causing it to rise and set nearly an hour later each day. Click here for more information about the Moon’s phases. At new moon, the Earth, Moon and Sun all lie in a roughly straight line, with the Moon in the middle, appearing in front of the Sun’s glare. In this configuration, we see almost exactly the opposite half of the Moon to that which is illuminated by the Sun, making it doubly unobservable because the side we see is unilluminated. Over coming days, the Moon will rise and set an hour later each day, becoming visible in the late afternoon and dusk sky as a waxing crescent which sets soon after the Sun. By first quarter, in a week’s time, it will be visible until around midnight.

30th January – BEEHIVE CLUSTER – The Beehive open star cluster (M44, NGC 2632, also known as Praesepe) will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of +19°58′, it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 89°N and 50°S. From Scarborough, it will be visible between 18:00 and 06:03. It will become accessible at around 18:00, when it rises 15° above your eastern horizon, and then reach its highest point in the sky at 00:04, 55° above your southern horizon. It will become inaccessible at around 06:03 when it sinks to 16° above your western horizon. At magnitude 3.1, M44 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

31st January – MOON/VENUS – The Moon and Venus will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 4°03′ to the south of Venus. The Moon will be 3 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. From Scarborough, the pair will become visible at around 17:02 (GMT) as the dusk sky fades, 31° above your south-western horizon. They will then sink towards the horizon, setting 4 hours and 35 minutes after the Sun at 21:11. The Moon will be at mag -10.6 in the constellation Aquarius, and Venus at mag -5.4 in the neighbouring constellation of Pisces. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

Dates highlighted in BOLD are good photographic opportunities

AIUK – Astronomy Imaging UK – https://www.facebook.com/groups/453388178104679/

sister group to ……

AUK – Aurora UK – https://www.facebook.com/groups/AuroraUK/

Note: Times are UK (BST) unless noted differently.

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