Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 24th, and Thursday, January 25th, 2018

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 24th, and Thursday, January 25th, written by Louis Suarato.

The First Quarter phase of the Moon occurs at 5:20 p.m. Wednesday. At 6 p.m., the Moon will be directly over the southern horizon, and it will set very close to midnight. During this lunar phase, the Sun is at a 90 degree angle to the Moon, and the Moon lags behind the Sun by 6 hours. It rises around noon, is highest at 6 p.m., and sets near midnight. The First Quarter phase doesn’t derive its name from the quarter of the day movement though. The First Quarter Moon is ¼ through its cycle at this time. The angle of the Sun casts long shadows along the Moon’s terminator, so take advantage of this time to explore its highlighted details on this line between lunar day and night. Thursday night, look for the Pleiades star cluster to the upper left of the waxing gibbous Moon.

Four easily visible planets will rise overnight, beginning with Jupiter at 1:56 a.m., in the constellation Libra. Mars, also in Libra, follows at 2:42 a.m.. Saturn rises at 5:25 a.m. in Sagittarius. Mercury, currently at aphelion, its furthest distance from the Sun, rises at 6:43 a.m., about a half hour before sunrise. The overnight sky also features Comet 94P/Smirnova-Chernykh. Discovered by Tamara Mikhajlovna Smirnova in March 1975, this comet is at perihelion, its closest distance to the Sun during this visit, at a distance of 3.54 astronomical units, or 3.54 times the distance of the Earth to the Sun. This comet has an orbital period of 8.53 years, and is expected to peak in brightness on March 11. Look about 6 degrees below Leo’s second brightest star, Denebola for this comet.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 22nd and 23rd, 2018

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 22nd and 23rd.

The Sun sets at 4:55 PM; night falls at 6:34. Dawn begins at 5:39 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:37.

While the drought of visible evening planets continues, the Moon dominates the twilight sky. Monday’s Moon blazes in Cetus, the Sea Monster, at minus 8.5 magnitude and appears about 1/3rd full. The 5-day-old Moon rose this morning and sets at 10:35 PM. Tuesday’s Moon migrates to Pisces, is brighter and fuller. It is best observed at 5:09 PM and sets at 11:39 PM.

Neptune continues its residence in Aquarius, shining at 8th magnitude and sets at 8:17 PM. Uranus, still in Pisces, glows at 5.8 magnitude and sets at 11:55 PM. However, the Moon’s proximity to Uranus will probably make observation difficult. Neptune, though fainter, may be visible through telescopes.

The Dwarf Planet 1Ceres still hovers above Leo’s nose. It shines at 7th magnitude, appears a tiny 0.7 arc-seconds in size and is best observed at 1:17 AM. Neptune, Uranus and 1Ceres require detailed sky maps from astronomical media.

Two constellations display the bright, easily seen pre-dawn planets. Libra, hosts Jupiter, which rises first at 1:59 AM near the star Zubenelgenubi. It blazes at minus 1.9 magnitude, is a large 30 arc-seconds in size through our telescopes and binoculars and is best observed at 6:56 AM. Libra also houses Mars about 8 degrees east of Jupiter; it rises at 2:39 AM. The Red Planet is dimmer at magnitude 1.3, a small 5.3 arc-seconds in size, and appears 91 percent illuminated. Mars is heading down toward Antares, 12 degrees below. Sagittarius contains Saturn and Mercury. Saturn rises at 5:28 AM, about 35 degrees below Mars. Mercury, rising at 6:31 AM, is brighter at minus 0.4 magnitude, appears a third smaller then Saturn, and about 90 percent lit. Both Saturn and Mercury are so low on the horizon that binoculars are recommended to find them out of the rising Sun’s glare.

Throughout the night, star clusters abound. In early evening, we find the Pleiades above the shoulders of Taurus. The Bull’s face is made of another star cluster, the Hyades. The nearby constellation Auriga harbors three clusters. Finally, Cancer contains the Beehive and M 67.

All these are called “Open Clusters.” They appear to contain, at most, a few hundred stars, which are widely spaced and irregularly shaped. Open clusters are relatively young, less than a billion years old. They reside in the disk of a galaxy and are fairly small, about 50 light-years across.

There is another class of star clusters. These are called “Globular Clusters.” Globular clusters are usually found around galaxy halos and central bulges.
Globulars may contain up to a million stars and are quite large, in a sphere about 100 light-years across. These stars are quite old.

If tonight’s weather is clear, binoculars can show many Open Clusters. Just dress warmly and observe the Hyades, Pleiades and the nearby pentagon shaped constellation Auriga.

Skywatch Line for Friday, January 19 through Sunday, January 21, 2018

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, January 19 through Sunday, January 21, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 7:21am and sets at 4:52pm; the Waxing Crescent Moon rises at 8:50am and sets at 7:30pm.

Mercury, Saturn, Mars and Jupiter are arrayed across the southeast roughly 45 minutes before sunrise. Jupiter, at magnitude –0.9, is the brightest and the highest, sitting a little less than 30 degrees above the horizon. Mars, at 1.3-magnitude, is just five degrees to the left of Jupiter. Saturn, at magnitude 0.5, shines only at five degrees altitude. Mercury, at –0.3 magnitude, sits below and to the left of Saturn by about 5½ degrees. You’ll likely need binoculars to be able to spot it.

On Friday morning, see the first brief double-shadow transit of the new Jupiter apparition. The double transit begins at 4:45am when the shadow cast by Ganymede lands on Jupiter’s disk, joining Europa’s shadow, positioned near the planet’s northwest limb. The show ends ten minutes later when Europa’s shadow egresses. Jupiter’s Great Red Spot will also be visible at that time.

The Milky Way runs vertically up and across the zenith by mid evening. It runs from Canis Major low in the southeast, up between Orion and Gemini, through Auriga and Perseus almost straight overhead, and down through Cassiopeia, Cepheus, and Cygnus to the northwest horizon.

Constellation Auriga, the charioteer, is nearly overhead around 10pm. Capella is the leading light of the pentagon-shaped group. Auriga is home to three open clusters M36, M37, and M38. These stellar clumps are members of the Milky Way Galaxy and relatively nearby. M36 and M37 are around 4,000 light-years distant, while M38 is nearly 6,000 light-years away. Each cluster is a rewarding sight in binoculars or a small telescope if your viewing conditions are good enough. M36 is the most compact member of the trio. In a telescope, M36 displays a spider-like appearance with rows of faint stars radiating from the cluster’s center. To find M36, move west just across an imaginary line from the Auriga stars “El Nath” and “theta Aurigae”. M37 is the most spectacular of the three. Also, it is the most easily found as it lies midway between stars “El Nath” and “theta Aurigae”. Telescope users likely find M37 to be the most rewarding Auriga cluster, as it’s richly packed with stars. M38 is just to the north west of M36.

Friday marks the birthday of the German Astronomer Johann Elert Bode. Bode was director at the Berlin Observatory. Born on January 19 1747, Bode was known for his popularization of the Titius-Bode law. In 1766, his compatriot Johann Titius had discovered a curious mathematical relationship in the distances of the planets from the Sun. The mathematical formula suggests that, extending out-ward, each planet would be approximately twice as far from the Sun as the one before it. The hypothesis correctly anticipated the orbits of Ceres, in the asteroid belt, and planet Uranus. However, it failed as a predictor of Neptune’s orbit and has eventually been superseded as a theory of solar system formation.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 17th, and Thursday, January 18th, 2018

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 17th, and Thursday, January 18th, written by Louis Suarato.

The 20 hour, 14 minute old Moon sets at 5:31 p.m. Wednesday. The waning crescent will be less than 1% illuminated when it sets. Thursday night, the Moon will be 4% illuminated when it sets at 6:28. The brightest star in the sky is Sirius in the constellation Canis Major. Sirius, which means “glowing” in Greek, shines at a magnitude of -1.45. Sirius’ brightness is due to its luminosity and its close proximity to our solar system. At 8.6 light-years away, Sirius is 25 times more luminous than our Sun. Sirius is a binary star system, consisting of the brighter, Sirius A, and fainter, Sirius B. Use Orion’s belt of three stars that point down to Sirius as it rises around 6:30 p.m. in the southeast.

As Sirius rises during the night, to about 40 degrees at 9 p.m., take advantage of the moonless night to explore some deep sky objects in Canis Major. M41, also known as the Little Beehive Cluster, can be found 4 degrees below Sirius. This cluster contains about 100 stars, between 190 and 240 million years old. Discovered by the astronomer Giovanni Batista Hodierna in the 17th century, M41 is magnitude 4.5, and is 2,300 light-years away. Another deep sky object in Canis Major is the CMA Dwarf Galaxy. This galaxy is 25,000 light-years away, and is believed to be the nearest neighboring galaxy to our solar system. Look about 25 degrees below Sirius for this elliptical galaxy. NGC 2359 is an emission nebula known as Thor’s Helmet. Thor’s Helmet is 30 light-years across, and 15,000 light-years away. The nebula is formed around a Wolf-Rayet star, an extremely hot giant star which will eventually explode as a supernova.

Jupiter, shining at magnitude -1.90, leads the parade of four planets that appear overnight as it rises at 2:18 a.m. in the constellation Libra. Mars, at magnitude 1.31, follows 30 minutes later. Jupiter and Mars are 5 degrees apart. Saturn rises at 5:49 at magnitude 0.53 in Sagittarius, and Mercury rises in the glow of sunrise at 6:33. NASA currently has spacecraft retrieving data from Jupiter and Mars. The Juno spacecraft entered Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. In December, Juno flew 8,292 miles above Jupiter’s cloud tops, providing amazing images in addition to data. Mars currently has four spacecraft orbiting the planet, and three rovers on its surface.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 15th and 16th, 2018

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 15th and 16th.

The Sun sets at 4:47 PM; night falls at 6:27. Dawn begins at 5:42 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:22.

The Moon is absent from both nights. It turns “New” at 9:17 PM on Tuesday and not visible until Thursday.

The drought of bright planets continues. The evening sky still presents 8th magnitude Neptune in Aquarius near the star Hydor. Neptune sets at 8:43 PM. Uranus still glows with 5.8 magnitude in Pisces, near the star Mu Piscium. Uranus is best observed at 5:46 PM and sets at 12:22 AM.

The star Algol (Beta Persei) dims at 7:18 PM on Monday. Normally 2nd magnitude, it fades to 3rd. Its darkening began while the Sun was still up and so one can only witness its brightening over the next several hours.

Leo is high in the southeastern sky by Midnight. Near the Lion’s nose, the Dwarf Planet (formerly an asteroid) 1Ceres shines at 7th magnitude and is best observed at 1:45 AM. Detailed finder charts from astronomical media are needed to locate Neptune, Uranus and 1Ceres.

Jupiter rises in Libra at 2:21 AM, shines with minus 1.9 magnitude and appears about 26 degrees above the eastern horizon at Dawn. Mars, rising also in Libra at 2:45 AM, is much dimmer at 1st magnitude, appears about 1/6th the size of Jupiter and 92 percent lit. Last week’s close conjunction is now over. Mars lies about 4 degrees below Jupiter and is now approaching Antares and preparing for a similar conjunction with Saturn in late March.

Civil Dawn finds Saturn rising at 5:52 AM in Sagittarius. It shines with 0.5 magnitude about 9 degrees, low above the eastern horizon. Saturn also lies about 23 degrees below Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius and about 4 degrees above Mercury. Mercury, now in descending mode, becomes lower daily. Saturn and Mercury had a close pairing on the 13th. Now Saturn climbs higher daily. Both are too low on in the East for detailed viewing; binoculars may assist finding them in the brightening sky.

By nightfall, Orion is already high in the southeastern sky. The bright white star Rigel marks the mighty hunter’s knee. A dim line of stars begins at Rigel and flows westward and downward until it disappears below the horizon. This is the river Eridanus. To see the full extent of this heavenly waterway, one must travel to Florida. There, Eridanus ends with the bright star Achernar, which literally means, “star at the river’s end.” The identity of this stream is a bit of a mystery. Ancient authors differ as to whether it refers to the Euphrates or the Nile. Both reliable sources of water and bountiful harvests. It is no coincidence that all civilizations and cities were founded along the banks of great rivers. The ancients thought of the Earth as an island surrounded by an immense body of water. The creation story in the Book of Genesis alludes to this view, as do Babylonian creation myths. The sky also bears out this vision. For the past several months we have been observing water related constellations. Delphinus (the Dolphin), and Capricornus (the Sea Goat), began the procession, followed by Aquarius, Cetus and Pisces. Eridanus spills its heavenly waters to sustain this celestial aquarium.

Skywatch Line for Friday, January 12 through Sunday, January 14, 2018

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, January 12 through Sunday, January 14, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 7:25am and sets at 4:44pm; the Waning Crescent Moon rises at 3:26am and sets at 1:42pm. Furthest lunar apogee of the year of about 406,459km is reached on Sunday night at 10:11pm.

Four of the five naked-eye planets can be viewed at dawn this week. Venus, which is in conjunction with the Sun, is the only missing planet. Mars and Jupiter appear little after 3am. Mars remains just 1½ degrees from Jupiter, which it passed on January 6. Jupiter, at magnitude –1.9, is 25 times brighter than 1.4 magnitude Mars. Mercury and Saturn clear the east-southeast horizon in brightening twilight shortly after 6:30am. Saturn, at magnitude 0.5, is returning to the morning sky after its December 21 solar conjunction. Mercury, noticeably brighter at magnitude –0.3, is wrapping up its morning apparition and heading sunward. In bright twilight on Saturday morning, look for Mercury and Saturn positioned just 45 arc minutes apart. On Monday at dawn, the very thin crescent Moon sits 3½ degrees to the left of the Mercury/Saturn pairing, low in the east-southeast. Mercury is moving sunward, away from Saturn, and now is a little harder to pick out in twilight’s glow. Binoculars will be helpful for tracking down all three targets.

The distinct W of Cassiopeia is now high overhead. Enjoy observing open star clusters in the constellation these moonless weekend nights. Cassiopeia is home to two Messier clusters, M52 and M103, as well as several rich NGC clusters. Explore the stellar swarms located just between the stars Delta and Epsilon Cassiopeiae. M103 is found just one degree northeast of 2.6-magnitude star Delta. M103 is a tight knot of stars that features a few stand-out stars brighter than magnitude 8. From M103 hop northeast to NGC663, the region’s other bright open cluster.

Saturday marks the anniversary of Jupiter’s fourth moon discovery. On January 13, 1610, Galileo Galilei discovered Callisto. Galileo originally called the Jupiter’s moons the “Medicean planets,” after the Medici family and referred to the individual moons numerically as I, II, III and IV. In the mid-1800’s the names of the Galilean moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, were officially adopted, only after it became apparent that naming moons by number would be very confusing as new additional moons were being discovered. Callisto is larger than planet Mercury, and composed mostly of water and water ice with large quantities of ice exposed on the surface.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 10th, and Thursday, January 11th, 2018

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 10th, and Thursday, January 11th, written by Louis Suarato.

The 33% illuminated, waning crescent Moon sets at 12:35 p.m. Wednesday. The Moon returns in the constellation Libra as a thinner crescent at 2:26 a.m., 4 degrees north of Jupiter, and 5 degrees north of Mars. This cosmic triangle will be followed by a close conjunction of Mercury and Saturn. Look low over the southeastern horizon around 6:30 a.m. to see the two planets 2 degrees apart. In addition to a clear horizon, you may require binoculars to see Mercury and Saturn rise before the Sun.

On October 2, 2017, while using the University of Hawaii’s telescopes to search for Near-Earth Asteroids, astronomer Ari Heinze discovered Comet C/2017 T1 Heinze. At the time, the comet was 18th magnitude in the constellation Hydra. On January 6th, the comet came closest to Earth. It is estimated to be 8.8 magnitude at its peak. Look for Comet Heinze in the moonless sky in the constellation Cassiopeia. It is now circumpolar, and will be visible all night over our region. The coordinates for Wednesday night are right ascension: 23h 39m 04s, declination: +57°55’34”. Using binoculars, look 5 degrees past the star, Caph, at Cassiopeia’s deeper V side for the comet.

If you look to the west of the star Caph, you’ll find open star cluster NGC 7789. This star cluster is also known as Mel 245, Caroline’s Rose Cluster, Ghost Cluster, Star Mist Cluster, Herschel’s Spiral Cluster, Crab Cluster, and Screaming Skull Cluster. NGC 7789 was discovered by Caroline Herschel in 1789. This 6.7 magnitude star cluster contains loops of stars, and dust lanes that give it the appearance of rose petals. Estimated to have 1.6 billion young stars, NGC 7789 is 8,000 light-years away. Caroline’s Rose is 50 light-years across, and spans about a half of a degree in the sky.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 8th and 9th, 2018

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 8th and 9th.

The Sun sets at 4:39 PM; night falls at 6:20. Dawn begins at 5:44 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:25.

Two dim and distant planets occupy our night sky from sunset until midnight. Neptune, with a dim 8th magnitude, still occupies Aquarius near the star Hydor. It sets at 9:10 PM. Uranus resides in Pisces, near the star Mu Piscium, shines at 5.8 magnitude, is best observed at 6:13 PM and sets at 12:49 AM. Both require detailed charts from astronomical media.

Seventh magnitude asteroid 1Ceres is best observed around Midnight. It is found just above the nose of Leo, the Lion. Again, detailed charts from various astronomical sources are needed to see this tiny member of the Asteroid Belt, between Mars and Jupiter.

Things become interesting after Midnight. Algol, the second brightest star in Perseus, which shines normally with 2nd magnitude, fades Wednesday night at 1:40 AM. Algol, the “Demon Star,” varies its light every 2.9 days. It fades from second magnitude to third – easily seen by the naked eye. The entire cycle takes about nine hours.

The Last Quarter Moon rises in Virgo at 12:26 AM, blazing at minus 9.5 magnitude and appearing about 45 percent illuminated. Wednesday, slightly dimmer and thinner, it migrates to Libra at 2:43 AM and comes within 10 degrees of the Jupiter/Mars duo.

The constellation Libra houses bright Jupiter and Mars. Jupiter rises at 2:44 AM and shines with minus 1.8 magnitude. Mars rises at 2:50 AM and glows at 1.4 magnitude. Both hover close Zubenelgenubi, one of two bright stars in Libra. They are approaching a close encounter. Tuesday night, they are separated by 1.2 degrees; Wednesday finds them closer at 0.7 degrees.

Mercury appears in Sagittarius, rising at 5:57 AM, shining at minus 0.3 magnitude and appearing about 77 percent lit. Mercury lies low in the eastern sky, about 40 degrees below the Jupiter/Mars pair. Saturn, joins Mercury in Sagittarius, rising at 6:16 AM and shining at 9.5 magnitude only 5 degrees above the horizon. Binoculars may be helpful in spotting Saturn; however, it is too low to provide good views of the famous ring system.

Winters in the Northeast are notoriously cloudy. However, when skies are clear, the night sky presents a riot of brilliant stars and constellations that seem close enough to reach out and touch. In fact, twenty-three of the fifty brightest stars are visible in tonight’s sky. Orion, the Dogs and Taurus account for the majority of the brightest stars in the heavens. Sirius is not only brightest on this list, but also second only to the Sun in luminosity; it is also the leading light of Canis Major, the Large Dog. About half of the list lies relatively close to us; the other half is intrinsically brighter, though further away. So, if it is clear, bundle up and enjoy Nature’s sky show.

Skywatch Line for Friday, January 5 through Sunday, January 7, 2018

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, January 5 through Sunday, January 7, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 7:26am and sets at 4:36pm; the Waning Gibbous Moon rises at 9:10pm.

Mars and Jupiter rise together in the southwest a little before 3:30am. Mars, at magnitude 1.5, is badly outclassed by magnitude –1.8 Jupiter. Mars has been creeping steadily closer to Jupiter for months, and on Saturday and Sunday morning Mars catches up to, then passes Jupiter. Just before or during early dawn on Saturday morning, spot Jupiter in the south-southeast. Fainter Mars is barely to its right, by just 1/3 degrees, which is less than the width of a chopstick at arm’s length or almost one-half of the Moon’s diameter. The two planets will fit in a medium-power eyepiece view. Both planets are near their maximum distances from Earth and about as small as they ever look. Just before or during early dawn on Sunday, spot Jupiter in the south-southeast again. Mars is now 1/3 degrees below it.

Nearby Jupiter and Mars is Zubenelgenubi, the Alpha Librae star in constellation Libra, the Scales. Zubenelgenubi is an Arabic name indicating that this star was once perceived as the “Southern Claw” of Scorpius. It was coined before Libra was recognized as a constellation distinct from Scorpius, the Scorpion. Libra’s alpha star is a very wide double star for binoculars. Astronomers have studied the motions of Zubenelgenubi’s stars to see if they are probably a two physically related stars orbiting a common center of mass. However, the rather wide separation between these two stars means a long orbital period of perhaps 200,000 years. That suggests these two stars may not be bound by gravity after all. In the months ahead, both Mars and Jupiter will be moving away from the Zubenelgenubi and toward the star Antares. Mars travels through the constellations of the zodiac at a much faster speed than Jupiter does. Mars will pass 5 degrees north of Antares on February 11, 2018, whereas Jupiter won’t pass to the north of Antares until December of 2019. Therefore, you can use Jupiter as your guide to Zubenelgenubi for the most of 2018.

Mercury, at magnitude –0.3, rises in the east-southeast horizon roughly 1½ hours ahead of the Sun. The fast-moving planet is nearing the end of its current dawn apparition, but remains an easy catch if you have an unobstructed horizon.

Early evenings over this weekend offer several hours of moonless observing. Andromeda Galaxy (M31), arguably the finest galaxy of all, is now high in the west. Andromeda is an easy binocular find and magnificent in a low-power telescope. Star-hop via the W-shaped constellation, Cassiopeia. One half of the “W” of Cassiopeia is more deeply notched than the other half. The deeper V is the “arrow” in the night sky pointing to the Andromeda galaxy. Next, head northeast to take in the Double Cluster, almost directly overhead, in Perseus. This is another terrific target for a small, wide-field scope. Zip down to the Pleiades (M45) in Taurus. This collection of bright stars is one of the very best binocular objects. Finally, go to the famed Orion Nebula, M42, in the southeast. Inspect M42 in your scope at low power then add moderate magnification to resolve the tiny, boxlike clump of four stars that make up the Trapezium at the center of the nebula.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 3rd, and Thursday, January 4th, 2018

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 3rd, and Thursday, January 4th, written by Louis Suarato.

Our planet reaches perihelion, its closest distance to the Sun for year, on Wednesday at 1 a.m. EST. At that time Earth will be 91,401,983 miles from the Sun. Earth orbits the Sun at an average distance of 92,955,807 miles throughout the year. Earth will be at its closest point to the Sun, known as aphelion, on July 6th, at a distance of 94,507,803 miles. As we in the northern latitudes know, perihelion has little to do with seasonal temperatures. Our planet orbits the Sun with its axis tilted at 23.5 degrees. During the winter months, and at the time of perihelion, Earth’s axis is tilted away from Sun, causing the Sun’s rays to strike the northern hemisphere’s surface less directly. The opposite is true for the southern hemisphere.

The axial tilt also affects the amount of daylight we receive. The further the Earth is tilted away from the Sun, the shorter the day. The Earth is tilted furthest away on the Winter Solstice, the shortest day of the year. Although we’re past the time of the Winter Solstice and the shortest day, January 4th will give us the latest sunrise of the year. Once again, it is the axial tilt that contributes to the uneven changes in the times of sunrise and sunset.

The 95% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon rises at 6:42 p.m. Wednesday. Look for the Beehive Cluster, also known as M44, 5 degrees above the Moon. Thursday is the birthday of amateur astronomer Wilhelm Beer. Born in 1797, Beer produce the large-scale map of the Moon based on his observations with a Fraunhofer refractor. The lithographed map provided the most complete details of the lunar surface during the 19th century. Mars rises at 2:57 a.m., followed by Jupiter 6 minutes later. The two planets are a degree apart. Look for Mercury after 6 a.m., low in the southeast.

One of the best meteor showers of the year will be overwhelmed by a close, gibbous Moon, and bad timing for a narrow peak that occurs during daylight hours. The Quadrantid Meteor shower, which can yield as many as 120 shooting stars an hour, peaks at 3:13 p.m. Wednesday. The radiant for this shower is in the constellation Bootes. Bootes rises in the northeast after midnight, but if you want to brave the cold and attempt to view some meteors, you may want to look for them early Wednesday and Thursday before dawn.