LOCAL TROUT LAKE RESIDENT JIM WHITE DOES A MONTHLY BLOG ABOUT WHAT WE CAN SEE IN OUR SKIES.
Thanks Jim for your contribution.
What’s in the Sky
If you’re reading this before the end of January, don’t miss the lunar eclipse on Jan. 31, early in the morning. The Moon will be larger than average, a “Supermoon”, where the Moon is about as close as it gets to Earth. In February, the interest involving the Moon is in what does not happen – there will be no full Moon during the month. That can happen only in February, and last happened in 1999. It’ll next occur in 2037. And guess what – in that year there also will be a lunar eclipse on the morning of Jan. 31!
The progress of the seasons begins to pick up steam in February, and you’ll begin to notice it. By the end of February, we’ll be gaining about 3 minutes of daylight each day. By contrast, at the start of the year, we only gain about a minute a day. By the end of the month, we’ll have about 11 hours of daylight.
Bright planets once again are absent in our evening sky, but shine brightly in the morning before sunrise. The Moon provides a guide as it orbits the Earth, passing near several of our solar system neighbors. On the 7th, look for the 3rd quarter Moon just above Jupiter in the southern sky at 6am. Two days later, the Moon will be just to the left of Mars. On the 11th, look for the thin crescent Moon just above Saturn. The picture with this article should help.
Mars will pass close to the bright star Antares, the 15th brightest star in the sky, in February. Antares has a distinct reddish color, and early astronomers compared it to the red planet. In Greek, Antares means “like Mars” or “rivaling Mars”. A pair of binoculars can allow you to see the similarity in color. In February, Mars and Antares will be about the same brightness. The real similarity ends there, though. While Mars is a small, rocky planet, Antares is a red giant star, about 600 light-years from us. The star is enormous; if it were placed where the Sun is, Earth’s orbit and Mar’s orbit would both be inside the star!
Look in the eastern evening sky in February, and you’ll see the first of spring’s constellations beginning to peek above the horizon. One prominent spring constellation is Leo, the lion. I always think of Leo as being “underneath” the bowl of the Big Dipper. Look to the east/northeast, and find the dipper with its “handle” pointing down and the bowl above it. Look to the right of the bowl, and slightly below it, to find Leo. In between you’ll find the faint constellation Leo Minor. Look for Leo’s brightest star, Regulus; it will be the brightest star you’ll see below the Big Dipper. Regulus forms the base of the lion’s head, which looks to me like a backwards question mark. The lion’s body lies below the head as we see it. The lion’s rear is formed by three moderately bright stars that make up a triangle. The base of the triangle is the brightest of the group, Denebola. In Arabic, Denebola roughly translates to “tail of the lion”.
Enjoy the night skies of February!
What’s in the Sky
Happy New Year! We open 2018 with another “Supermoon” on New Year’s Day. You may have seen the last full Moon on December 3, which was also a Supermoon. Skies were clear in our area, and we were treated to a brighter and slightly larger than average Moon. Supermoons occur when the Moon is at or near its closest approach to Earth when it is full. On January 1, the Moon will be about 221,000 miles from Earth, closer than the average of about 238,000. It is still smaller in our sky than many people realize. If you look at the Moon through a drinking straw, you can see the entire Moon in that small area, even a Supermoon Try it!
The Moon is not done with us on New Year’s Day. On the last day of January, we’ll have another full Moon, and this one will be eclipsed by the Earth’s shadow. The full lunar eclipse will occur early in the morning hours of the 31st. The eclipse will start at about 3am, but will not be really noticeable until about 4am, when the full shadow of the Earth starts to creep across the lunar surface. The eclipse will be full by about 4:50am. Unlike solar eclipses, where totality lasts only a few minutes, the lunar eclipse totality will last until a bit after 6am, over an hour. The Moon will be visible, and will be reddish in color. The color is caused by the Earth’s atmosphere. Even though the Earth is between the Sun and the Moon, light passing through our atmosphere is refracted (bent) and strikes the Moon. Long wavelength red light rays are scattered less by our atmosphere, and more of them reach the Moon, causing it to appear reddish. The same principle applies here on Earth at sunrise and sunset, when sunlight at low angles passes through more of Earth’s atmosphere, and we get red color in the clouds and mountains.
Our bright planets are pretty much absent from the evening sky in January, but the morning sky has some highlights. Jupiter and Mars are both visible in the southeast. Early in the month, Mars will be above and to the right of Jupiter. On the 6th, they will pass very near each other from our vantage point. After that, Mars will be below and to the left of Jupiter. By the end of January, Mars will have pulled well away from Jupiter. Below and to the left of Mars, before sunrise, you may be able to pick up Saturn, just entering the morning sky in the southeast.
If you can brave the cold, clear January nights yield some very impressive, bright stars. Many are familiar with the outline of Orion, the hunter. Orion will be in the southern sky during January evenings. Below and to the left of Orion, find Canis Major, one of Orion’s hunting dogs. Our sky’s brightest star, Sirius, lies in Canis Major, to the left of Orion. Orion includes Rigel (7th brightest) and Betelgeuse (10th). Canis Minor, Orion’s other dog, has Procyon, the 8th brightest. Above Orion, the Taurus the bull has Aldebaran, a red giant star, 14th on the list. Higher still in the night sky are the Gemini twins Pollux (#17) and Castor (#23). Finally, almost straight overhead in the
constellation Auriga is Capella, the 6th brightest star. The picture included with this article can help you identify them. They make for a beautiful winter sight, brave the cold and give them a look. See how many you can identify!