Happy New Year!
Consider a planetarium program to help you plan your observations. There are many commercial products available, and an excellent program (STELLARIUM) is available free at http://www.stellarium.org/.
THE MAGNIFICENT PLEIADES
If you have binoculars or if you just enjy observoing the night sky, now is the opportunity to look at the Pleiades, an open star cluster star cluster in Taurus and designated M45 in Charles Messier’s famous list.
The entire cluster is about 14 light years wide and is located about 444 light years from Earth. From our vantage point this translates to about 2 degrees in width (about the width of four full moons), much too wide for the restricted view in most telescopes. This makes the Pleiades an ideal binocular (or low-power wide-field telescope) object. If you have no choice but to use a telescope (unless it has a wide field), you will need to pan back and forth in order to view the entire cluster!
Here are some photos I took using camera lenses and finally a wide-field telescope, which show the Pleiades as you would see it with your unaided eye (a “fuzz ball” in the night sky) and gradually magnified to a binocular or wide-field telescopic view. (I duplicated the first photo to show a couple the neighboring constellations. Click on any photo to enlarge it.)
Look for the Great Square of Pegasus high in the west during early evenings this week.
Neptune is near Mars after dusk this week (closer early in the week). High power is required to see its disk. Find out more about Uranus and Neptune and how to observe them at http://www.skyandtelescope.com/observing/celestial-objects-to-watch/planets/ice-giants-neptune-and-uranus/.
Sunday (January 1)
The crescent Moon is to the lower right (west) of Venus in the southwest in the early evening. Mars (and Neptune) is about 12 degrees (a little more than the width of your fist held at arm’s length) to the upper left of Venus.
Monday (January 2)
Look for the Moon between Venus and Mars in the early evening to the west.
Thursday (January 5)
First-quarter Moon 12:47 p.m. MST.
Mercury (in Sagittarius)
Not visible in the Sun’s glare.
Venus (in Aquarius)
Shining brightly in the southwest in the early evening.
Mars (in Aquarius)
Look for a faintly orange “star” in the south-southwest at nightfall, to the upper left (west) of Venus.
Jupiter (in Virgo)
Jupiter rises about 1:00 a.m. and is bright in the south-southeast by dawn. That bright star under it is Spica (in Virgo). Jupiter reaches opposition (closest approach for this apparition) on April 7th.
Saturn (in Ophiuchus)
Look in the early dawn very low in the southeast. Don’t confuse it with Antares, which is also in the neighborhood.
Uranus (in Pisces)
High in the south at nightfall.
Neptune (in Aquarius)
High in the south at nightfall. Neptune is near Mars this week (see above).
BRIGHT IRIDIUM FLARES
The following data are based on my location in Pueblo West, Colorado. If you live well outside this area, you should consider checking this information for your site in order to be assured of accurate times, elevations, etc.
Tuesday (January 3): 6:11 a.m. / Magnitude -5.6 / SE / Elevation 14 degrees
Friday (January 6): 6:02 a.m. / Magnitude -5.9 / SSE / Elevation 16 degrees
INTERNATIONAL SPACE STATION (ISS)
These are too numerous to list here! If you’re serious, load the ISS DETECTOR app on your smart phone or tablet.
Pueblo West, Colorado