Planetary delights with spectacular Venus high in the sky

This week we have some great planetary delights to see in our skies here from Maine.  We do some star-hopping using Orion to find a new constellation, and more.  Here is your guide to the sky for January 8-14, 2017…

Sun – Earth – Moon

Sunrise this week is at 7:11 am and sunset at 4:16 pm a very slight increase in daylight from last week.  Full Moon also takes place on Thursday at 6:34 am and the January one is often referred to as the “Wolf Moon” by a number of Native American tribes as it was viewed as a time when wolfs would howl in hunger.

Planets

Venus  reaches its greatest elongation (farthest angular distance from the Sun on January 12 and will set about 2 and a half hours after sunset.  If you have binoculars, try finding Neptune that evening when it is 0.4 degrees North of Venus.  It will appear as a faint bluish point of light and at magnitude 7.9 is not visible without optical aids.  Mars continues shine bright after sunset in the southwestern skies.  Jupiter rises just after midnight and binoculars will allow you to see the four Galilean Moons (Io, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa) orbiting it as small pinpoints of light – Friday is the anniversary of their discovery by Galileo of Ganymede in 1610. Mercury and Saturn are visible low in the morning sky just prior to sunrise in morning twilight.

Constellation of the Week

Last week we found Orion the mighty Hunter, so this week we will use Orion to locate Taurus the Bull.  Connect the three stars of Orion’s Belt as a line and extent it to the east until you come to a “V” shaped group of stars.  This is the Hyades cluster which marks the face of Taurus.  Extend the ends of the V upward to find the tips of his horns.  From the Hyades look just to the right to find a small cluster called the Pleaides or Seven Sisters.  It looks like a miniature version of one of the dippers.  While there are many legends around Orion, one Greek one involves Taurus and the Pleaides.  Orion spotted the Pleaides and was smitten by their beauty, which caused him to fall in love with all seven of them.  He decided he would marry them all, but Atlas their father was not amused by this so he placed the ladies on the back of Taurus the Bull to protect them from Orion’s advances.  This is why we see Taurus and Orion locked in battle in the night sky to this day.

Satellites to see

The International Space Station makes several bright passes this week. Saturday morning look for it from 5:10 to 5:13 am moving from north-northeast to northeast.  On Monday morning watch for it from 6:36 to 6:42 moving from northwest to northeast, and it has a spectacularly bright pass on Friday morning January 13 from 6:20 to 6:27 am moving from northwest to southeast – the brightest one for the week.

Our Local Planetarium

Emera Astronomy Center is showing From Earth to the Universe on Friday at 7:00 pm during the month of January.  A trailer can be seen here. The program includes a live tour of the skies as viewed from Maine and share the latest astronomical discoveries. Do check it out!

 

Have a great week exploring your night sky here in Maine!  Check out the planets, find a new constellation, and see if you can spot the ISS on one of its passes. The cold weather provides some extraordinary views, worth bundling up and getting outdoors to see, so keep your eye on the sky!

Shawn Laatsch

About Shawn Laatsch

Shawn Laatsch is the director of the Emera Astronomy Center and Jordan Planetarium at the University of Maine. He started his astronomy education career in 1984 and has directed planetariums in university and science center facilities, taught undergraduate astronomy courses, and given numerous lectures around the globe. He serves as President (2017 & 2018) of the International Planetarium Society, Inc. the world’s largest organization of planetarium professionals. Shawn has a passion for sharing astronomy and stargazing with people of all ages.