FSU Planetarium

Back to Main Sky Report Page



Sky Report - January 2012

Sun Closest, Orthodox Christmas and High Full Moon    

Late on the evening of January 4th, the Earth is closest to the sun for the year at a distance of 91.4 million miles. We will be farthest from the sun late on the evening of July 4th when we are 94.5 million miles away. Our seasons are caused by the nearly constant tilt of the Earth's axis. In late fall/early winter, our Northern hemisphere is tipped away from the sun, resulting in a low sky path for the sun and shorter daylight hours. In late spring/early summer, our Northern hemisphere is tipped towards the sun, resulting in a high sky path for the sun and longer daylight hours.

The Orthodox Churches (Russian and Greek) celebrate Christmas on January 7th as they retain the old Julian Calendar, which has New Year's Day on January 14th. The 13 day difference between the Gregorian Calendar (used by businesses worldwide) and the Julian calendar is due to our year of the seasons being 365 days 5 hours 48 minutes 45.5 seconds. The Julian Calendar (of 365 days 6 hours) is off by 11 minute 14.5 seconds, which accumulates by about one day every 128 years. So since the Julian calendar was put into place in 46 BCE, the first day of spring has dropped back to March 8, 13 days earlier than the usual March 21 start of spring.

The moon is full on the evening of January 8th, then appearing in the star group Gemini. This northerly position of the moon will cause the moon to have a sky path that crests 72 degrees high in the South. (90 degrees is the height of the zenith, the top of the sky.) The moon will be visible for more than 14 hours, rising about sunset and setting about sunrise.

Early January Sights - January opens with a half full evening moon, offering the best views of craters and mountain ranges along the moon's straight edge. (This is the sunrise line on the moon where crater rims and mountains catch the sunlight while their surroundings are still in darkness.) On the evening of January 2nd, the moon will appear to the North of (or above) the bright planet Jupiter. On January 5th, the moon will appear above the bright star Aldebaran, marking the eye of the Bull. On January 8th, the moon is full, hanging in the sky all night long.

Mid January Sights - By January 16th, the moon has shrunk to half full in the southern dawn sky. With the moon absent from the evening sky, the brilliant stars of winter are at their best. Orion in the Southeast has a three star belt with bright shoulder stars above and to the left. The pinkish shoulder star is Betelgeuse, a huge red star bigger than the orbit of Mars. Below and to the right are Orion's feet star including Rigel, Orion's brightest star. Orion's three star belt points up and rightward past Aldebaran, the bright star marking Taurus' eye (the Bull's eye star). Further along that direction is the Pleiades star cluster, often called the Seven Sisters. Orion's belt points down and left to Sirius, the night's brightest star).

Late January Sights - On January 16th, the crescent moon appears near the planet Saturn in the southeastern dawn sky. Nearby steadily shining Saturn is the white-blue star Spica of Virgo. After January 21st, the moon is lost in the sun's glare. On January 23rd the moon passes North of the sun (New Moon). This second New Moon since the start of winter will trigger Chinese New Year 4710, the Year of the Dragon. On January 25th, a slim crescent moon can be seen low in the West Southwest dusk at 6 p.m. On the next evening, the moon will appear above and to the right of the brilliant planet Venus. On January 29th and 30th, the moon will appear near the very bright planet Jupiter in the southwestern evening sky. On January 30th, the moon will appear half full (like a tilted 'D'), offering good views of its craters and mountains through small telescopes.

In February, our free public sky shows will resume in Compton Science Center with the program, "Bears and their Skies" with Sunday presentations at 4 p.m. in Compton 224. Our programs change monthly. No reservations are needed, just come a little bit early as once programs start, it is difficult to seat visitors in a darkened planetarium.

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.









Web Page Manager: Robert Doyle    Copyright  |  Privacy
Frostburg State University, 101 Braddock Road, Frostburg, MD 21532-1099.