Early January’s Moon and Planets

Hey, happy new year, sky fans! I hope things are off to a good start. Did any of you have a chance to try to see the Comet 45P on Friday night? Any luck? It was overcast here, so I couldn’t see anything at all beyond the blanket of clouds. Lots of other people, and a blogger whose work I like quite a bit, Jim Reubush, got a photo of the gorgeous crescent.

If you had a look at the sky last night, you may have seen the Moon creeping up toward the bright light of Venus, which continues to be almost alarmingly bright and pretty high in the southwest. I had a few minutes while dinner did its own thing inside so I took my daughter and a pair of binoculars to have a look. These young phases of the Moon are great to see, and last night’s was no exception. The sunlight petering out into shadows, like an ellipsis, along the mountains near the terminator (the line where the lit side ends and the unlit side begins) in the Moon’s south was great. It had been a while since I saw her with that look of amazement, that moment we’ve all had when you realize the Moon’s a sphere, an entire world of its own, not just a flat disc in the sky.

If you have the time, and the sky tonight, have a look. The Moon will be a bit of a thicker crescent now that it’s been a few days since it was new. It’ll settle in right between Venus and subtle orange-red glow of Mars. The three together will be quite a show. Tomorrow night, the Moon will be just above Mars, and the line continues. Here’s more of my glorious, undercaffeinated artwork.

The Moon & Planets January 1 - January 5, 2017
The Moon & Planets January 1 – January 5, 2017

If you’re up for a bit of a challenge, this week is a good week to try to catch a glimpse of the seventh planet, Uranus. On Thursday, January 5th, the first-quarter Moon, with its brightly lit right-hand half (as seen from Earth) will spend its night really close, and, at some points of the evening, directly below the third-biggest planet. This orientation will change over the course of the night, and the screen grab below shows them at about 7:30 pm where I am. They’ll sort of revolve clockwise around each other over the course of the night. You can use the terminator near the Moon’s north pole to draw a line that leads to Uranus.

There’s talk that if you’re in a dark enough place you can see it with your naked eye, but let’s be honest. Over the two-billion mile trip from the Sun and back, the light that hits it loses a bunch of its oomph. You’ll need binoculars for this kind of deal. With the help of some lenses, you’ll see a greenish-grey ball that stands out from the nearby stars. I’ve seen it before and it’s really a treat when you spot it, and it’s also nice, if you travel in the sort of crowd that’d be interested, to be able to say you’ve seen it. Here’s that screen from Stellarium I mentioned.

The Moon and Uranus, January 5, 2017 (from Stellarium)
The Moon and Uranus, January 5, 2017 (from Stellarium)

If you don’t have a chance to see anything over the next couple of days, don’t worry. January’s a 31-day month, which means these phases will have enough time to repeat before the month’s out and we’re dropped into February. I’ll write more about it then, though.

For now, clear skies, everyone! And… where’s my coffee?


10 thoughts on “Early January’s Moon and Planets

  1. I’ve gone searching for Uranus and Neptune a few times. Never had any success. I’m pretty sure I was looking in the right places, but they’re so frustratingly tiny. It’s hard to pick out which point of light is a planet among so many small background stars.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve never tried for Neptune, but maybe this month. It’s huddling up close to Mars these days. For me, it’s one of those things, if I go out and can’t find anything, at least I’ve gone out and looked at the sky. Hard to call think of that as a bad thing.


      1. I was thinking the very same thing when you happened upon my wordpress site! I think it’s great, and I think it’s important for people like us, with only our passions instead of degrees, to do our own research and also contribute to the sharing of knowledge and information (and people who appreciate truthful and accurate information). The more people looking up towards the stars, pondering and theorizing, the better for us as a whole!

        Liked by 1 person

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