Friday, January 9, 2015 12:00am -0500

The January Sky

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Comet Lovejoy, Dec.16, 2014 Comet Lovejoy, Dec.16, 2014 Damian Peach

Hey, everyone, Mark 'Indy' Kochte here,

So, there are some happenings going on in the night skies this month that you might want to, if only briefly (depending on how cold it is in your neck of the woods), get out to see. Planets, comets, and winter skies - oh my!


If by chance you saw the Moon last night, or this morning, and noticed a bright starlike object near it, that would have been Jupiter. It is rising earlier and earlier in the east (around 8pm this month, 7pm next month). If you have a small telescope or access to one, it is pretty easy to see up to four of the Galilean moons, and possibly a couple of the major cloud bands.

Currently in the western sky after sunset Venus and Mercury are visible. This coming Saturday they will get pretty close together. If it's clear, about an hour after sunset find yourself a clear western horizon and have a gander. Venus will be the extra bright starlike object, Mercury will be the somewhat less bright but still visible one to the lower right, about or less than a finger's width from Venus. This will be a great opportunity for you to lay eyes on the more elusive planet in the solar system that you can see with the unaided eye. Mercury will disappear from view not too many days after this, but Venus will linger around for a couple/few months longer, rising higher in the western sky before going back down again.

The crown jewel for January is a comet, C/2014 Q2 Lovejoy. It began brightening a couple weeks ago, crossing the threshold of visibility about a week or so back, and has been slowly brightening since. It is not going to be a major bright "oh, wow, look at that" comet, but as far as comets go in general, just being able to see it with your naked eye is a rarity (there are lots of comets that cruise around the solar system, but 90% of them are so faint you need a large telescope to even see them). This won't be all massive impressive, won't have a distinctive tail, but if you want to see a comet, this will be a good opportunity. It'll be in the evening sky and should be visible most of the month. Definitely, though, you'll need to get yourself to someplace dark to see this, as it'll be somewhat fainter than the Orion nebula. See the links below and the attached finder chart and look for a smal fuzzy greenish glow. I'd suggest using binoculars first to find it, then try and see if you can pick it out without.

If you're up for some astrophotography, on Sunday January 18th, comet Lovejoy will be passing right near the Pleiades star cluster. It should be a sight to photograph if it's clear where you are (I'm going to try if it is clear, definitely).

Remember, whatever you do, dress *warmly* if you go out! It's dang cold up here in the northern hemisphere right now, no sense being miserable while trying to catch these sights.  

Some links for you:

Sky & Telescope: "How to see Comet Lovejoy Tonight"
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/…/spot-comet-lovejoy-tonigh…/

Space.com: "Green Comet Lovejoy Now Visible..."
http://www.space.com/28196-comet-lovejoy-visible-eridanus-c…

Sky & Telescope: "How to see Comet Lovejoy Tonight"
http://www.skyandtelescope.com/…/spot-comet-lovejoy-tonigh…/

EarthSky: "Comet Lovejoy Closest Jan 7"
http://earthsky.org/space/watch-for-comet-lovejoy

National Geographic "5 Sky Events This Week"
http://news.nationalgeographic.com/…/150105-starstruck-sk…/…

If you get out to see any of this, good luck!

 

Photo Credit: Damian Peach

Read 1772 times Last modified on Friday, January 9, 2015 1:44am -0500