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Monthly Sky Report - January 2006

Getting Directions
To find the planets, bright stars and groups, you need to know the compass directions where you watch the sky. Lacking a compass, you can use the sun at the start, middle and end of the day. As you face the rising sun - it will be rising to the South of East. In mid day (around noon), look at your shadow which then points North. The sun will set to the South of West.

All Through January
During January, there is an average of 9 hours and 40 minutes of sunlight each day. During January, the sunsets advance from a little after 5 to about 5:30 p.m. Sunrises don't change as much from 7:35 p.m. early in the month to about 7:25 p.m. at month's end. Stars begin to fade away an hour before sunrise and the star groups come into view an hour after sunset. The very bright planet Mars shines with a yellowish sheen in the southern evening sky. Bright planets like Mars have a starlike appearance but shine steadily in contrast to the twinkling bright stars. There are two very bright evening stars; golden Capella gleams in the Northeast while white-blue Sirius sparkles in the Southeast. High in the sky is the 7 Sisters or Pleiades star cluster, resembling a tangle of fireflies. In evening, the planet Saturn can be seen low in the East.

Sights for Early January
On New Year's Day, a slender crescent moon appears to the right of the brilliant planet Venus low in the southwestern dusk. The moon grows to half full by the 6th. This is best time of the month to view the moon's surface features with binoculars or telescope. On January 8th, the moon appears near the planet Mars in the southwestern evening sky. On January 10th, the moon appears near Aldeberan, the star marking the eye of Taurus. The early predawn hours on January 3rd will feature a meteor shower called the Quadrantids. On January 4th, the Earth is closest to the sun for the year at a distance of 91.4 million miles.

Sights for Mid January
The evening moon moves from the star group Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo and into Virgo from January 10th through the 20th. The moon grows to full on January 13th, then appearing near the bright stars of Gemini. Pisces, through Aries, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer and into Leo from December 10th through the 20th. The full moon of January is called the Moon After Yule, shining all through the long winter night. On January 15th, the moon appears near the planet Saturn. The next evening, the moon appears near Regulus, the star marking Leo's heart.

Sights for Late January
The moon has moved into the early morning sky, allowing better viewing of the fainter evening sights. On January 23rd, the moon appears near the bright planet Jupiter high in the southeastern dawn sky. On January 26th and 27th, the crescent moon will appear near the brilliant planet Venus low in the southeastern dawn. The star group Orion peaks in the South around 9 p.m. in late January. Orion's trademark is his belt of three stars in a row. The brilliant star Sirius dominates the southern evening sky, appearing to the left and below Orion. On January 27th, the planet Saturn appears opposite the sun, rising at sunset and hanging in the sky all night long. Saturn is then closest to the Earth for the year at a distance of 756 million miles. Light then reaching us from Saturn takes over an hour to travel between the two planets. As January ends, a slender crescent moon appears low in the southwestern dusk. The first sighting of the moon in Mecca will trigger Muslim New Year 1427.

Astronomy Activities
The Cumberland Astronomy Club will have their meeting on Friday, January 20th at 7:30 p.m. at the LaVale Public Library. All interested sky gazers are welcome.

There will be a free 2006 sky calendar available to visitors at the Sunday Planetarium programs at Frostburg State University at 4 p.m. and 7 p.m. Call the Frostburg State Planetarium at (301) 687-4270 and press 4 to receive a free planetarium brochure which includes a map of how to reach the planetarium.









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