EYES ON THE NIGHT SKY: JANUARY 2018
A Happy New Year to all stargazers! We hope you had a great Christmas and that you are keen to try out your new telescopes or binoculars! Even though the Christmas rush is over, there is still plenty going in the night sky, with a great planetary conjunction, two Full Moons and deep space objects to study.
On 1st January, the planet Mercury reaches greatest western elongation from the Sun, of around 22 degrees, which is its highest point. The planet will still be low in the eastern sky but will be the best time of the year to catch it if you have never seen it before. Watch out for it from around 6:50am.
The year’s largest 'supermoon' occurs on 2nd January. Not only is a Full Moon (2nd January at 2:24am), it’s also the closest to Earth this year (at perigee) at a distance of 356,565 km – this occurs a few hours earlier at 21:54 on 1st January. The New Moon occurs on 17th January. The Blue Moon occurs on 31st January, which is the second Full Moon of the month.
On 3rd – 4th January, another meteor shower will grace the sky: the Quadrantids. With 40 meteors per hour, you might be able to catch the brightest ones but be aware that a waxing Moon will illuminate the sky, making it difficult to see the fainter meteors. The Quadrantids will radiate from the constellation Boötes.
On 7th January, a planetary conjunction will grace the morning skies. Jupiter will pass 0°12' north of Mars at 03:37. Both planets will be in the constellation of Libra and will get as high as 22° above the horizon at around 7:30am – for those to wish to wake up at a more sensible time! They can be seen with the naked eyes and through binoculars. Try to catch this conjunction in a telescope with low magnification. If you have a wide field eyepiece at around 32mm you will see Mars, Jupiter and two of its many Moons visible, Callisto and Europa - a great sight!
The Beehive Cluster (M44) is situated in the constellation of Cancer. It is around 550 light years from Earth and 39 light years wide. It is the nearest open cluster containing 1000 stars, making it one of the richest that can be seen with naked eyes, appearing as a blurry patch. It makes a pleasant binocular target – you may be able to see up to 20 stars through 10x50 binoculars. Through telescopes, you may be able to resolve up to 200 stars. Try to use averted vision (look slightly off the object) to reveal more brightness in the Cluster and study the different star colours.
The Leo Triplet is a small group of spiral galaxies, 35 million light years away in the constellation of the same name. M65, M66, and NGC 3628 can be spotted through good quality binoculars. This trio of interacting galaxies in Leo are affected by the gravitational pull of each other. M66 is the most impressive of the three, being the largest at 100,000 light years across and boasts of having the most supernovae events. Three supernovae explosions have occurred in M66 since 1989; the third one in 2009. Through telescopes of 8” and above, more ‘shape’ can be seen in the Leo Triplet, resolved to brighter cores with fuzzy surroundings. Bear in mind that when you see these three galaxies within your field of view, you are seeing more than half a trillion stars!