The pre-dawn sky features the brilliant planet Venus in the Southeast. At the same time Venus is in view, the bright planet Saturn is in the West, shining steadily among the stars of Leo. On January dawns, the Big Dipper appears high in the North with its handle arching to the bright golden star Arcturus. The brightest star in the eastern sky then is white-blue Vega.
As January opens, the moon appears as a crescent in the pre-dawn sky, appearing near brilliant Venus on January 4th and 5th. On January 9th, the moon reappears low in the southwestern dusk near the planet Mercury. On January 15th, the evening moon appears half full; this "D" shaped moon offers the best views of the craters and mountain ranges through binoculars. The evening moon will appear close to the planet Mars on January 19th and near Saturn on January 24th. The full moon on January 21st appears in Gemini, close to Gemini's bright stars Pollux and Castor. This full moon shines for 14 hours due to its northerly position. By the end of January, the moon will shift into the morning sky, appearing half full on the morning of January 30th.
February 2008 - In February, we gain an hour of daily sunlight; sunrise times through the month fall back from about 7:23 a.m. to 6:50 a.m. and sunsets increase from 5:35 p.m. to 6:06 p.m. So the brighter evening stars appear about 6:45 p.m.
The brightest point of light in the early sky is the sparkling star Sirius in the Southeast. Above and to the right of Sirius is the hour glass shaped star group of Orion. Orion's most striking feature is his belt of three stars in a row. Above Orion is the bright planet Mars. The planet Saturn shines near the sickle of Leo in the eastern evening sky. The Big Dipper appears high in the Northeast, spilling its soup along the handle. The Dipper's two top stars point left to the North Star, a modest star that shines about half way up in the North. These same two stars point right towards Saturn.
In the predawn sky, we have a line up of the brilliant planets Venus and Jupiter in early February in the Southeast. As the weeks go by, Jupiter will move above and to the right of Venus. At the end of February, the planet Mercury will appear near the planet Venus. These two planets will appear close together through mid March.
The moon reappears low in the western dusk on February 8h. On February 13th, the moon appears half full, offering the best views of its craters and mountain ranges. On February 15th, the moon appears near the bright planet Mars. The full moon on February 20th appears near the planet Saturn. Late in the evening of February 20th, there is a lunar eclipse when the full moon passes through the Earth's shadow. Start watching about 9 p.m. as the moon's left side begins to enter the Earth's deep shadow. By 10 p.m. the moon will be entirely in the Earth's shadow. Just before 11 p.m., the moon's left side will begin to emerge from the Earth's shadow. Binoculars will enhance your view of the eclipse; watch the Earth's dull shadow slowly creep across the moon's grey plains. At the end of February, the moon shifts into the morning sky, appearing half full on February 29th.
March 2008 - In March, the amount of daily sunlight grows by 1.3 hours; sunrises scarcely change due to the shift to Daylight Time on March 9th. Sunrise time range from 6:49 a.m. at start of March to 7:01 a.m. at March's end while sunsets slide forward from 6:07 p.m. to 7:38 p.m. (The big jump in sunsets is largely due to our shift to Daylight Saving Time on March 9th.)
Sirius, the brightest point in the evening sky appears in the southern dusk. To the right of Sirius is Orion, the year's brightest star group. Orion has 7 stars in the shape of an hour glass with two bright stars on top (his shoulders), three in the middle (his belt) and two bright stars below (his feet). Above and to the left of Orion is the planet Mars, now outshone by the brighter winter evening stars.
The Big Dipper is prominent in the North Northeast. Extend the Dipper's handle outward to Arcturus, the first bright spring evening star to appear. The planet Saturn lies about halfway between Arcturus and Sirius; Saturn is to the left of Leo's starry sickle. At the bottom of the sickle is bright Regulus, the heart star of Leo. You can tell Saturn from Regulus by Saturn's steady light.
In early March, the moon appears as a crescent in the southeastern dawn. On March 2nd and 3rd, the moon is near the bright planet Jupiter. On March 5th, a very slender crescent moon appears near the planet Mercury and the brilliant planet Venus low in the East Southeast at 6:10 a.m.
On March 8th, a very slender crescent moon can be seen low in the West Northwest as darkness falls. On March 13th, the evening moon appears half full, lying in between the the bright golden star Capella and the bright tawny star Aldebaran. On March 14th, the moon appears near the planet Mars. The moon spends two evenings near Saturn; our companion will be to the right of Saturn on the 18th and to the left of Saturn on the 19th. The moon is full on March 21st, triggering a very early Easter on Sunday, March 23rd. As March ends, the moon appears half full in the southern dawn sky near the bright planet Jupiter.
In the last week of March, there is a gathering of the planets Venus, Mercury and Uranus very low in the southeastern dawn. Venus is a brilliant point, Mercury is noticeably dimmer and Uranus requires binoculars to be seen.
April 2008 - In April, daily sunlight hours grow by 1.25 hours; sunrises drop from 7 a.m. to 6:17 a.m. while sunsets advance from 7:39 to 8:09 p.m. The evening stars appear around 9 p.m.
April is the last month to see all the bright winter evening stars. Early in the evening look for Orion's three star belt in the Southwest. The belt points left to Sirius, the night's brightest star. Above Sirius is Procyon, marking the head of the Little Dog. High in the southern evening sky is Leo, the Lion. On the right is Leo's sickle and to the left is a starry triangle, marking Leo's hindquarters. In between the sickle and the triangle is the bright planet Saturn, now at its best for viewing its rings with telescopes.
The Big Dipper is upside down and high in the North. The two leftmost stars of the Dipper point down to the North Star, a modest star about halfway up in the North. The Dipper's handle arches outward to Arcturus, now high in the eastern evening sky. Low in the Northeast sparkles white-blue Vega, the first bright summer evening star to appear.
As April opens, the moon appears as a cresent low in the southeastern dawn. On April 4th, the moon may be seen near the brilliant planet Venus in the 6:30 a.m. eastern dawn. Starting on April 7th, the moon may be seen low in the western dusk. The moon appears near the planet Mars on the evening of April 11th. The next night the moon appears half full, offering the month's best views of its craters and mountain ranges through binoculars. On April 14th and 15th, the moon appears near the two bright points, Saturn (on left) and the bright star Regulus (marking Leo's heart). The moon is full on April 19th, appearing near the bright star Spica (of Virgo). In the last week of April, the moon has moved into the morning sky, appearing half full in the southern dawn on the 28th.
May 2008 - The growth in the amount of daily sunlight begins to slow with the daylight hours growing by less than an hour. Sunrises in early May are about 6:14 a.m. which drop back to 5:55 a.m. at month's end. Sunsets advance from 8:08 p.m. to 8:36 p.m. during May. The evening stars can be seen around 9:30 p.m.
May is the last month to see the winter evening stars, forming an arch low in the West at nightfall. Low in the Southwest is the sparkling star Sirius. To the right and higher is Procyon, then farther right at the top of the arch are Pollux and Castor. Low in the Northwest shines golden Capella. By mid May, Sirius disappears in the twilight.
In mid May, the planet Mercury gives its best dusk appearance of the year. Mercury is then in Taurus, to the right of Orion. Mercury then sets more than 90 minutes after the sun.
In the southern evening sky are three bright stars, forming a big triangle. Brightest is the golden star Arcturus, which can be found by extending the Big Dipper's handle. Below and to the left of Arcturus is Spica, Virgo's brightest star. The tip of the triangle is the star Regulus, far to the right. Just to the left of Regulus is the planet Saturn.
The brightest star in the eastern evening sky is Vega, the top star of the Summer Triangle, which can be seen in the late evening.
On May 6th, the moon reappears as a crescent low in the western dusk. On that evening, you can see the planet Mercury to the left of the moon. On May 10th, the moon appears just above and to the left of the planet Mars. On May 11th, the moon appears near the planet Saturn. On May 12th, the evening moon appears half full, offering the best views of its craters and plains through binoculars. On May 19th, the moon is full, appearing to the right of the claws of the Scorpion. On May 23rd, the moon appears near the bright planet Jupiter; both objects seen low in the Southeast just before midnight.
The predawn skies of May match the skies of September. The very bright planet Jupiter shines in the southeast. The Big Dipper can then 'hold water' low in the North Northwest. Low in the West is the golden star Arcturus. High in the South is the Summer Triangle.
By Dr. Bob Doyle
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