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  • Rapt in Awe

    My Journey through the Astronomical Year

    Think of this as a "companion text" to this, the main web site. Not required reading, butI hope you'll find it interesting and helpful.

Events January 2014 – Hello Jupiter and Mercury, Goodby Venus

In January 2014 Jupiter rises in the east as the Sun sets, dominating the brilliant Winter Hexagon, and Venus sets shortly after the Sun making it very hard to see after the first week of the month. But Mercury will tease us for a week or so with a brief appearance.

How do you find these planets? They’re hard to miss because they are so bright.

Jupiter

Wait for a couple hours after sunset – by that time it will be  about  three fists (roughly 30 degrees) above the eastern horizon.  It’s in Gemini and at magnitude -2.7 it is far brighter than that brilliant collection of stars we call the Winter Hexagon. Here’s what you should see.

Jupiter in the Winter Hexagon. Click for larger version. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Jupiter in the Winter Hexagon as seen from mid-northern latitudes about two hours after sunset in January, 2014.. Click for larger version. (Prepared from Starry Nights Pro screen shot.)

Click here for a printer-friendly version of this chart

The brightest star of the Winter Hexagon is  Sirius, but Jupiter easily outshines it. Betelgeuse is inside the Hexagon – and yes, Castor and Pollux count as one star for the purpose of this asterism. ( If you counted them as two the “hexagon” would have seven sides!) This is the greatest concentration of very bright stars in our sky and is one of the reasons why we tend to think of winter nights as being clearer than the nights of other seasons.

If you have binoculars and a steady hand, see if you can see any of Jupiter’s four moons. They will be little pinpoints of light near the planet roughly in a line that goes through the planet’s equator. Binoculars will frequently reveal one or two of the four moons that are very easy to spot in any small telescope.

Venus

Venus starts out the month fairly easy to spot very low in the southwest about 30 minutes after Sunset. It is the brightest “star” in the sky, outshone only by the Moon and Sun, and is a bit west of southwest..  BUT . . . you need clear skies and an unobstructed western horizon and with each day Venus gets significantly lower so that by the end of the first week in January I think it will be very difficult to spot from my location at 42 degrees north latitude.

Of course Venus isn’t vanishing. By the end of the month it will be a “morning star,” shining even more brilliantly in the sky just before dawn. It will stay there right through September and by next  winter it will be in the evening sky again.

 Mercury

Mercury always teases, quickly putting in an appearance and just as quickly vanishing. In this case it come son stage at the end of the month. It’s going to be in about the same location as you last saw Venus – that is, a bit west of southwest about 45 minutes after sunset – at that time  should be about 6 degrees above the horizon on January 26, 2014.

It shine at about magnitude -.6 – brighter than nearly any star, but, of course, this will be diminished by twilight. It reaches it’s highest point – about 10 degrees, or one fist – right at the end of the month and should stay visible through the first week or so of February, though it will be lower each night.

Binoculars will be helpful in finding it. Start looking about 30 minutes after sunset. It will get a bit easier each night for the last week in January, then as February begins it will start getting closer to the horizon – and the sun – and thus harder to see each night.

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