Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 13th and Thursday, January 14th, 2016

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 13th and Thursday, January 14th written by Louis Suarato.

The 18% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon, appears in the constellation Aquarius high over the southwestern horizon after sunset Wednesday. Use binoculars or a small telescope to locate blue Neptune about 6 degrees below the Moon. Aquarius, meaning “water carrier” in Latin, is located between the constellations Capricornus and Pisces. Aquarius was one of the 48 constellations listed by the astronomer Ptolomy in the second century, making it one of the oldest recognized constellations along the Sun’s path, or zodiac. Aquarius is the 10th largest of the 88 modern constellations, covering an area in the sky of 979 square degrees. Its brightest stars are less than 2nd magnitude, with its brightest being Beta Aquarii, or Sadalsuud, at an apparent magnitude 2.91. Aquarius contains three Messier deep sky objects. M2 and M72 are globular clusters, and the third, M73 is an open cluster. You’ll find M2 about 5 degrees to the upper right of Sadalsuud. Several planetary nebulae can be found in Aquarius, including NGC 7293, the popular Helix Nebula, the closest planetary nebula to Earth at a distance of 650 light-years. 

Approximately 45 minutes after the crescent Moon sets, Jupiter rises in Virgo around 9:34 p.m. Wednesday night. At 11:18 p.m., Io will end its occultation, reappearing from behind Jupiter. Mars rises below Virgo’s brightest star, Spica, around 1:30 a.m. Thursday. Mars’ brightness improves considerably during the month, shining at magnitude 0.8 by month end. Saturn is up next, rising around 4:30 a.m. Thursday, followed by Venus about one half hour later. After their very close conjunction earlier this month, Saturn and Venus are now approximately 6 degrees apart and separating further each day. Mercury is at inferior conjunction, between the Sun and the Earth, and will reappears before sunrise in the southeast at the end of the month, 7 degrees below Venus. 

The Moon is at perigee, its closest distance to Earth during this lunar cycle, on Thursday at 9:14 p.m. at a distance of 229,671 miles. 

Thursday night may be a good time to locate Comet C/2013 US10 Catalina, weather permitting. The comet will be very close to the last star in the Big Dipper’s handle, Alkaid. Alkaidwill be about 20 degrees above the northeastern horizon after 10:30 p.m. Thursday night. Look 1 or 2 degrees to Alkaid’slower left. Visibility should improve as the comet rises above the horizon.

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