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Sky Report - January 2009

Sun Closest, High Full Moon & Venus Highest in Western Twilight

In early January, we have a fine meteor shower called the Quadrantids, best seen in the early morning hours of Saturday, January 3rd. The meteors in this shower will streak from northern Bootes, a kite shaped star group seen high in the North in the early a.m. hours. The meteors will then appear in all directions but can be traced back to the star group Bootes. Up to 60 meteors an hour may be seen then. The shower  begins on January 1st and lasts through January 5th.

About the time of sunset on January 3rd, the Earth is closest to the sun for the year at a distance of 91.4 million miles. This reduced distance will increase the (power received)/(Earth area) of the sun by 3.4% compared to the average for the year. But the sun’s low altitude and shorter days cause only about 1/3 as much solar power to be reaching our area now per day as at the start of summer.

The moon will be closest to the Earth about 6 a.m. on January 10th at a distance of 217, 000 miles (from surface to surface). As this is about 17 hours before the full moon, this full moon in the late evening of January 10th will be brighter than normal. The moon will then also be closer to the sun than normal (making the moon appear even brighter.) Last month’s full moon was even closer to the Earth and also very bright. The full moon on the evening of January 10th will appear near the feet of the Gemini brothers, pursuing  a high path that takes 15 hours to traverse from eastern horizon to western horizon.

On  the evening of January 14th, the planet Venus will be at its greatest angle from the sun in the western sky, setting nearly 4 hours after sunset. Venus then will be 62.3 million miles from Earth; through a telescope, Venus will appear as a tiny half moon. A telescope magnifying 72 X will show Venus as large as the moon appears to our eyes. On the evening of January 22nd, the planet Venus will appear 1.2 degrees North Northwest of the distant planet Uranus, which is barely visible to the eye. Binoculars will help you spot Uranus. On January 29th and 30th, the crescent moon appears near the planet Venus; on the 29th, Venus will be below and to the right while the 30th will have the moon just above Venus.

Showing in January at the Frostburg State Planetarium is “Polar Skies” with free public presentations on Sundays at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. , starting Sunday, January 11th. The Planetarium is in the front lobby of Tawes Hall. Tawes Hall is across the street from the Compton Science Center.

By Dr. Bob Doyle

To contact Dr. Doyle, his mailing address is Planetarium, Frostburg State University, Frostburg, MD 21532 or by email at rdoyle@frostburg.edu.









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