This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Monday, New Year’s Day, and Tuesday, January 1st and 2nd written by Joe Slomka.
The Sun sets at 4:32 PM; night falls at 6:14. Dawn breaks at 5:44 AM and ends with sunrise at 7:26.
As we endure a severe cold snap, the New Year begins with the Earth being at its closest to the Sun. On Wednesday, January 3rd, at 1:34 AM, our planet lies 147,097,233 KM (91,401,383 miles) from our star; the average distance is 93,000,000 miles. However, our frigid winters are due to the North Pole being pointed away from the solar heat.
In addition, New Year’s Day sees a Full Chief Moon making the closest perigee of the year – 365,565 KM (227,151 miles). The Moon’s proximity to Earth will cause especially high tides to coastal areas. The Moon inhabits Gemini on both nights, rising at 4:27 PM on Monday and 5:34 PM on Tuesday. The Moon sets after daylight on Tuesday and Wednesday mornings.
Neptune dimly shines at 8th magnitude in Aquarius, while Uranus, in Pisces, appears brighter at magnitude 5.8. However, both planets must contend with the Full Moon’s glare and become difficult to observe. Neptune sets at 9:37 PM and Uranus sets at 1:16 AM.
By midnight, the constellation Leo rides high in the southeast. Ceres, the largest member of the Asteroid Belt, shines with 7th magnitude above the Lion’s nose. Detailed charts are required to find this asteroid, discovered on New Year’s Day in 1801. Again, the Full Moon makes observation difficult.
A well-dressed observer may brave our freezing pre-dawn temperatures to witness the close pairing of Jupiter and Mars in Libra. Mars rises at 2:55 AM, followed by Jupiter at 3:05. The two lie near the star Zubenelgenubi, about 2 degrees apart on Tuesday, 1 ½ degrees apart on Wednesday.
Civil dawn finds Mercury, in Ophiuchus, about 33 degrees below the Jupiter/Mars group; Mercury glows with minus 0.3 magnitude and appears about 65 percent illuminated. Saturn makes a return to our skies by appearing very low in the southeast, rising at 6:40 AM and shining at 0.5 magnitude.
New Year’s Day opens the first page of the Gregorian calendar, which we use daily. Until 1582, the calendar Julius Caesar adopted was still in effect. It became increasingly apparent that the calendar was out of step with civil and religious seasons. A little known Italian doctor, Aloysius Lilius, wrote a letter to the Pope pointing out this problem. An initially skeptical Cardinal Christopher Clavius saw the wisdom of Lilius’ solutions, which made minor changes to the Julian calendar, and championed them before the newly elected Pope. The Pope declared the reformed calendar effective on October 15, 1582. Catholic countries quickly adopted the change, even though people “lost” 10 days that year. Slowly other countries adopted it – the last being the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Alas, Lilius is almost forgotten, while the calendar was named for the Pope and a major crater on the Moon enshrines Clavius.