SOUTHERN COLORADO SKIES
by Dave Furry – Southern Colorado Astronomical Society
BRIGHT PLANET ROUNDUP
Mercury and Saturn –
Mercury will appear about 30 minutes before dawn, very low above the eastern horizon; it will be at greatest western elongation (as far west of the Sun as it will get in this apparition) on New Year’s Day. On January 13th Mercury and Saturn will be only 0.6 degree apart, but much-dimmer Saturn may be hard to spot. Mercury fades into the glare of the Sun in late January, but Saturn will become much more visible as it will rise a couple hours before the Sun by the end of the month.
Venus is lost in the Sun’s glare this month. It will be at superior conjunction (directly behind the Sun) on January 9th.
Mars and Jupiter –
Mars and Jupiter will be the dynamic duo of the pre-dawn in January as they rise together about 3 a.m. They start the month only 2 degrees apart and will be less than 1 degree apart from January 5th through the 8th – in fact, they will be only 1/3 degree apart on January 6th! Both planets will be getting brighter as the month progresses because their angular diameters will be increasing.
TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE AT END OF JANUARY
Early in the morning of January 31st, to the west over the mountains, we will be treated to a total eclipse of the Moon. We won’t be able to see the conclusion of the eclipse because the Moon will be setting for our location, but we will see totality. Here are the times as predicted by the website in the link provided below:
BEGINS: Wednesday, January 31, 2018 at 3:51 a.m. MST
MAXIMUM: 6:29 a.m.
ENDS (moon sets): 7:07 a.m.
This lunar eclipse (like other lunar eclipses over the past few years) is referred to in some articles as a “Blood Moon.” This has nothing to do with symbolic blood – it refers to the reddish color of the eclipsed Moon due to light ‘leaking through’ from Earth’s atmosphere (a phenomenon much like a red sunset or sunrise). To the right is a photo I took during a “Blood Moon” eclipse in 2015.
For more information about this eclipse as seen from Pueblo, as well as a cool eclipse video, check out https://www.timeanddate.com/eclipse/in/usa/pueblo.
A lunar eclipse can only occur when the Sun, Earth, and Moon are perfectly aligned during a full Moon, but because the orbit of the Moon is in a different plane than the Earth/Sun orbit eclipses don’t occur every full Moon.
Two shadows are cast from Earth and fall on the Moon: the umbra (dark inner shadow) and the penumbra (lighter outer shadow). As the Moon passes through these shadows the penumbral stage is not very noticeable; the best part of the eclipse is when the Moon passes through the umbra.
It’s a fortunate coincidence that we can see eclipses at all. The Moon has been moving away from Earth ever since it was formed, and there will eventually be a time when there will be no eclipses at all.
Constellation Highlight: TAURUS
Taurus, the Bull, is one of the oldest constellations because of it importance to ancient astronomers: from about 4000 to 1700 B.C.E. the Sun was in Taurus at the vernal equinox (the first day of spring). A bull represents vitality and fertility, so its symbolism is apparent as the marker of the beginning of spring.
A V-shaped pattern of stars (‘asterism’) is known as the Hyades, and makes Taurus fairly easy to identify in the winter sky. The brightest star in Taurus is in the Hyades – orangish Aldebaran. The Hyades were imagined to make up the bull’s face, and Aldebaran was seen as its fierce eye.
Binoculars or a small telescope show the Hyades as an open star cluster composing a rich multitude of colorful stars. An open cluster’s stars develop from the same gas cloud in space, but eventually drift away due to the gravitational attraction of other clusters and nearby objects. Another famous cluster in Taurus is the Pleiades (‘Subaru’ in Japanese), which I discussed in the October issue of this publication.
M1 (the Crab Nebula) is located at the tip of the southern “horn” of Taurus, as shown in the above graphic. (For an explanation of “M” objects, see my short article at http://scaspueblo.com/blog/2017/03/16/what-is-a-messier-object/).