Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday,  January 24 and 25, 2024 written by Alan French

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday,  January 24 and 25, written by Alan French.

The Sun rises at 7:18 A.M. on Wednesday and sets at 4:57 P.M. On Thursday it rises at 7:17 and sets at 4:59. This Thursday ha 13 ¾ minutes more daylight than last Thursday.

The Moon reached first quarter last Wednesday and is now headed toward full, which it will reach early in the afternoon on Thursday. On Wednesday, the Moon rose at 3:43 P.M. and will be 20 degrees above the east northeastern horizon as the Sun sets.  At 7:00 P.M. the Moon, 99.4% sunlit and appearing full by eye, will be a lovely sight toward the east. The Moon is in Gemini and the constellation’s two brightest stars, Pollux and Castor, are just above the Moon. Pollux is the star closest to the Moon.

On Thursday night at 7:00 P.M. the Moon, almost 6 hours past full, will be 99.8% in sunlight, 20 degrees above the eastern horizon, and look full. The full Moon will be in the constellation Cancer. The January full Moon is known as the Wolf Moon.

Jupiter continues to dominate the evening sky. On Wednesday it is due south and highest, 57 degrees above the horizon, at 6:00 P.M. On Thursday it is due south at 5:56 P.M. In a month Jupiter will be highest before the Sun sets and we will have lost our chance to view its clouds with a telescope when highest and best under dark skies.

Nineteen years ago, on January 25, 2004, the robotic rover, Opportunity, landed safely on Mars. It had been launched on July 8, 2003, and, cushioned by airbags, landed safely in Meridiani Planum, a large plain straddling the equator of Mars. Opportunity was the second of two rovers to land on Mars in January, 2004. Its twin, Spirit, launched just a month earlier, on June 10, 2003, had landed safely in the impact crater Gusev on the opposite side of the planet on January 4.

Opportunity’s initial mission on Mars was 90 sols, 90 Martian solar days (slightly less than 92 ½ Earth days). This was the expected lifetime of the two rovers. Both Spirit and Opportunity spent far more time exploring Mars than expected. Opportunity lasted 5111 sols, eventually succumbing to power problems, and last communicated with Earth on June 10, 2018, Spirit’s mission lasted. Spirit spent more than 5 Earth years exploring Mars, traveling 7.73km (4.8 miles) before getting stuck in soft sand. It was last heard from on March 22, 2010. Opportunity traveled 45.16km (28.26 miles) on Mars in more than 14 years.