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January 2019 Skies

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January Skies

by Dick Cookman


Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, Sunrise and Sunset, January Moon

Focus Constellations: Pegasus, Pisces, Aries, Triangulum, Andromeda, Perseus, Auriga, Taurus, Orion, Canis Major, Canis Minor, Gemini. Camelopardalis, Lynx, Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia

Comet Journal

C/2018 Y1 (Iwamoto) was discovered on Dec. 78, 2018 in Hydra and rapidly increased to 9th magnitude. It is a fast moving comet (~150,000 mph) slightly south of eastern Virgo and will pass south of Spica at month’s end. It is expected to reach perihelion on Feb. 6th at 7th magnitude and may be closest to Earth (28 million miles) in Leo on Feb. 11th & 12.

Comet 46P/Wirtanen (2018) was the Christmas Comet which reached perihelion on Dec. 12th in Taurus. It was closest to Earth on the 16th and remained bright through the Christmas season. It is a short period (5.5 years) comet from the asteroid belt and its exceptionally close approach to Earth of 7.2 million miles resulted in several weeks of naked-eye visibility (4th magnitude) from dark skies. It is currently in Lynx and will move into Ursa Major during January.

Comet 64P/Swift-Gehrels (2018) passed through perihelion in November slightly beyond the orbit of Mars. It reached a peak brightness at 9th magnitude in December and is now in Aries and will move into Taurus by the end of January. It will dim rapidly as it retreats to aphelion between the orbits of Jupiter and Saturn.

Comet 38P/Stephan-Oterma (2018) in Lynx is dimmer than its peak brightness of 9th magnitude. It is a short period comet (38 years) orbiting the Sun from the Kuiper Belt beyond Uranus and will continue to dim as it heads back home.

Mars Landers

The Opportunity rover was silenced on June 10th by the recent planet-wide dust storm and remains out of contact.

After landing on Mars on Nov. 26th, InSight worked toward deploying its seismometer and heat probe onto the Martian surface. NASA’s team tested the robotic arm for proper function and analyzed the surrounding terrain for best location in order to deploy the seismometer (also known as the Seismic Experiment for Interior Structure, or SEIS) and the heat probe (also known as the Heat Flow and Physical Properties Probe, or HP3). Meanwhile, the Rotation and Interior Structure Experiment (RISE), which does not have its own separate instrument, is already using InSight's radio connection with Earth to collect preliminary data on the planet’s core. The seismometer was deployed on December 19th.

The Curiosity Rover switched from the Side B computer to Side A computer on Oct. 3rd then rested for the rest of October while Curiosity's engineering team at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory conducted diagnosis of the anomaly on the Side B computer. Rover movement and surface analysis resumed after a total of 47 Martian days (sols) on Nov. 2nd (Sol 2220).

The "Highfield" target in the gray Jura rock type on Vera Rubin Ridge was successfully drilled on Sol 2225, followed by another successful drilling of the red Jura rock type which caps Vera Rubin Ridge at “Rock Hall” by Sol 2263 (12/18/18)! The balance of 2018 was devoted to continued diagnosis of the Side B computer anomaly, analysis of the drilling powder from Highfield and Rock Hall, and further examination of the nature of the surface of the Jura rock.

Meteor Showers

One of the best meteor showers of the year will occur the day before New Moon. The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaks on the morning of the 4th, and typically features as many as 100 meteors per hour including numerous fireballs in dark skies with minimal light pollution. Meteors will shoot out of northern Bootes which will be east of the zenith during the best viewing before dawn.

The Delta Cancrids on the 17th, which peak during the waxing gibbous Moon, are a minor shower averaging 4 meteors per hour emanating out of Cancer in dark western skies before dawn.

Planet Plotting

Mars (0.5 to 0.9) in Pisces joins Neptune (+7.9 to +8.0) in Aquarius and Uranus (+5.7 to +5.8) in Pisces as evening planets in the southern and western sky. Mars is flanked by the others with Neptune closest to the horizon after dark. Mars is between the Neptune and Uranus. It approaches the latter as the month progresses. Uranus is highest, twice as far above the western horizon as Neptune. The waxing crescent Moon is 3° from Neptune on the 10th, 5° from Mars on the 12th, and is gibbous when it is 5° from Uranus on the 14th. Best viewing for all three planets is in the early evening during the first half of January before lunar glare from the gibbous and full Moon diminishes their apparent brightness during the last half of the month.

During January, Saturn (+0.5 to +0.6) in Sagittarius, Jupiter (-1.6 to -1.7) in Ophiuchus, and crescent Venus (-4.4 to -4.1) in Libra, Ophiuchus, and Sagittarius dominate the predawn sky. Venus is brightest on the 1st and dims by 30% during the month as its crescent thickens and the planet speeds away from Earth. The waning crescent Moon will be 1.3°N of Venus on the 1st at 5:00PM EST and 0.09°N on the 31st at 1:00PM. It will be within 3° in the predawn skies. Venus is at maximum western elongation at midnight on the 5th at 47° from the Sun. It provides a magnificent apparition when within 2°N of Jupiter and south of 1st magnitude Antares in Scorpius at 7:00AM EST on the 22nd. The waning crescent Moon is 3°N of Jupiter at 3:00AM EST on the 3rd and again on the 30th at 7:00PM EST

Saturn is on the eastern horizon at dawn on the 1st and is in conjunction with the Sun at 1:00AM EST on the 2nd. It appears in the predawn eastern sky in the last half of January. It is 0.88° from the waxing crescent Moon at 10:00PM EST on the 5th and is 1.72°S of Mercury at 7:00AM EST on the 13th when it appears only 40% as bright as Mercury which brightens from magnitude 0.4 to -1.3 in Sagittarius and Capricornus in January. Mercury will be low in the southeastern sky and within 2.76° of the waning crescent Moon at 2:00PM EST on the 4th. It will then drop into the glow of sunrise, reaching Superior Conjunction with the Sun at 10:00PM EST on the 29th.

PlanetConstellation(s)MagnitudePlanet PassagesTime, Date
SunSagittarius-26.8New Moon8:28PM EST, 1/5
MercurySagittarius, Capricornus-0.4 to -1.3Saturn, 1.72°N
Superior Conjunction
7:00AM EST, 1/13
10:00PM EST, 1/29
VenusLibra, Ophiuchus, Sagittarius-4.4 to -4.1Max West Elongation
Jupiter, 2.0°N
Midnight EST, 1/5
7:00AM EST, 1/22
MarsPisces+0.5 to +0.9  
JupiterOphiuchus-1.6 to -1.7Venus 2.0°S7:00AM EST, 1/22
SaturnSagittarius+0.5 to +0.6Solar Conjunction
Mercury, 1.72°S
1:00AM EST, 1/2
7:00AM EST, 1/13
NeptuneAquarius+7.9 to +8.0  

Sunrise and Sunset

The latest sunrise of the year at 40° north latitude is on the 5th. The earliest sunset was on December 7th. Although the solstice was the shortest day on December 21st, latest sunrise & earliest sunset timing differ due to Earth’s elliptical orbit. Earth rotates at a relatively constant rate yet travels fastest when close to the Sun in January and slowest when farthest away in July, resulting in an variation in the rate that the Sun appears to move through the sky. The terms “sunfast” and “sunslow” describe this variance through the year which is quantified in the “equation of time” and graphed as the analemma, a figure 8 photographic or otherwise recorded history of solar position in the sky at the same time each day.

January Moon

January’s New Moon on the 5th at 8:28PM EST accompanies a partial solar eclipse visible in parts of northeast Asia and the Pacific Ocean from China to the Aleutian Islands. It is the beginning of Lunation 1188 which ends 29.81 days later with the New Moon of February on the 4th at 4:04PM EST. A total lunar eclipse occurs during the Full Moon on the 21st at 12:16AM EST. Light from the Sun loses the blue component of the spectrum as it slips through the atmosphere on either side of the Earth during the eclipse and produces an orange color for the “Earthglow" reflected by the eclipsed Moon.

The January Moon is known as the “Wolf Moon”, the “Moon after Yule” or “Old Moon”. Since the eclipse is 14.7 hours before perigee, when the Earth and Moon are closest, January’s Full Moon appears larger than normal producing a “supermoon”. Colonial Americans called the January Moon the “Winter Moon” and Celts called it the “Quiet Moon”. Chinese refer to it as the “Holiday Moon”. It was the “Wolf Moon” in Medieval England. Anishinaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) people recognize it as “Manidoo-giizis” (Great Spirit Moon), making January’s Full Moon the Great Spirit, Red, Wolf, Supermoon!

Lunar Apogee (maximum orbital distance) occurs on the 8th at 11:29PM EST when the Moon is at 252,850 miles (63.67 Earth radii). Perigee occurs on the 21st at 3:00PM EST when the Moon is at a distance of 222,042 miles (56.03 Earth radii).

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassageMoon PhaseMoon Age
SunSagittarius-26.88:28PM EST, 1/5New0 days
MercurySagittarius+0.72.76°N, 2:00PM EST, 1/4Waning Crescent27.99 days
1.3°N, 5:00PM EST, 1/1
0.09°N, 1:00PM EST, 1/31
Waning Crescent
Waning Crescent
25.11 days
25.73 days
MarsPisces+0.65.0°S, 3:00PM EST, 1/12Waxing Crescent6.90 days
JupiterOphiuchus-1.63.0°N, 3:00AM EST, 1/3Waning Crescent26.53 days
SaturnSagittarius+0.50.88°N, 2:00PM EST, 1/5Waning Crescent0.40 days
UranusPisces+5.85.0°S, 7:00AM EST, 1/14Waxing Gibbous8.96 days
NeptuneAquarius+7.93.0°S, 5:00PM EST, 1/10Waxing Crescent3.38 days


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