Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday December 5th, and 6th, 2022

This is the Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday December 5th, and 6th, written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 4:22 PM; night falls at 6:03. Dawn begins at 5:30 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:11.

Monday’s eastern waxing Moon, in Aries, set at 4:33 AM, rises at 2:49 PM, 96% illuminated, 30 arc-minutes in size, highest at 10:10 PM and sets at 5:41 AM, Tuesday. Tuesday’s Moon, now in Taurus, rises at 3:17 PM, same size but now 99% lit, highest at 10:58 PM and sets at 6:48 AM, Wednesday, where it becomes “Full”.

Four planets rise during daytime, only Mars rises near sunset. Southwestern Saturn still is the first to rise, in Capricornus, zero magnitude, 16 arc-seconds in size, 31 degrees highest at 4:28 PM and sets at 9:25 PM. The viewing window for Saturn is rapidly closing; observers are advised to take last looks now. Neptune, in southwestern Aquarius, glows with 8th magnitude, 2 tiny arc-seconds, 43 degrees highest at 6:30 PM and sets at 12:18 AM.

Gas Giant Jupiter, in southwestern Pisces, blazes with minus 2nd magnitude, large 42 arc-seconds, 45 degrees highest at 6:54 PM and sets at 12:50 AM. The giant planet is gradually in prograde (forward motion). Observers can witness the Great Red Spot (a giant storm) at 11:31 PM on Tuesday and see the Jovian moon Io begin to cross the planet’s face at 3:49 AM, followed by Io’s shadow at 5:09.

Southeastern Uranus, in Aries, shines with 5th magnitude, 3 arc-seconds in size, 63° highest at 9:49 PM and sets at 4:54 AM. Monday, Uranus is found 4° to the Moon’s lower right. Tuesday finds Uranus 16 degrees from the Moon’s lower right.

Mars, still inhabiting eastern Taurus, reaches Opposition on December 8th. The Red Planet rises at 4:16 PM (just before sunset), 72 degrees highest at 11:56 PM and sets at 7:42 AM (just after sunrise).

Every history student knows that December 7th marks the 81st anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. Few people are aware of the date’s astronomical significance. The Japanese high command chose that date because the eighteen-day-old Moon rose before midnight and shone at 87%, permitting planes to launch during dark and fly to their targets. The Moon almost helped foil the surprise raid. The Condor, an American minesweeper, spotted a submarine periscope silhouetted against the moonlight. The Condor called the Ward, a destroyer, who attacked a second submarine and radioed the incident to headquarters. That report was not heeded. Had that information been acted upon, the American fleet would have had at least an hour and a half to prepare.

Skywatch Line for Friday, December 2, through Sunday, December 4, 2022

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, December 2, through Sunday, December 4, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 7:07am and sets at 4:22pm; Moon sets at 1:08am and rises at 1:42pm. The Sun already seem to be setting about as early as it ever will. For our area, the Sun sets its earliest around December 7th. The offset of the earliest sunset from the solstice date is balanced out by the opposite happening at sunrise: The Sun doesn’t come up its latest until around January 4th. All this is due to the tilt of Earth’s axis and the eccentricity of Earth’s orbit. In addition, the exact date of the Northern Hemisphere’s earliest sunset and the Southern Hemisphere’s earliest sunrise varies by latitude.

On Friday, A small telescope will show much more about lunar geology than craters, plains and mountains as the terminator now unveils more of the waxing gibbous Moon.

For several nights starting on Friday, the westerly retrograde motion of the red planet Mars will carry it just a thumb’s width to the celestial north of the large open star cluster NGC 1746, close enough for them to share the eyepiece in a backyard telescope at low magnification. On Friday evening, Mars will shine to the cluster’s upper left. By Sunday night, Mars will migrate above NGC 1746’s smattering of stars, which are scattered over an area larger than a full Moon.

On Saturday evening, the distant blue planet Neptune will complete a retrograde loop that has been carrying it slowly westward through the stars of northeastern Aquarius since late June. After pausing its motion on Saturday night, Neptune will return to its regular eastward motion. On moonless evenings in December, the magnitude 7.9 planet can be observed in good binoculars and backyard telescopes. But a bright, waning gibbous Moon will shine near Neptune on Saturday night. Wait a few nights, and then search for the faint planet, a palm’s width to the lower right of Jupiter. Neptune and Jupiter will be almost cozy enough to share the field of view in binoculars.

On Sunday night, the bright, waxing gibbous Moon will be positioned less than a fist’s diameter to the right of the magnitude 5.6 planet Uranus. The Moon’s eastward orbital motion, plus the diurnal rotation of the sky, will tuck the Moon closer below Uranus during the night. Watch for bright red Mars and the little Pleiades star cluster, or Messier 45, positioned to their left.

Orion clears the eastern horizon by about 7:30 p.m. Orion’s tilt while rising depends on your latitude. North of 33° N, Betelgeuse will be higher than Rigel. south of 33°, Rigel will be the higher one just after they rise; Orion comes up foot first. The name “Rigel” derives from an Arabic word meaning “a leg”. As the night goes on, Betelgeuse always gain the upper position, as seen from anywhere in the Northern Hemisphere.

Vega still shines brightly well up in the west-northwest after dark. The brightest star above it is Deneb, the head of the big Northern Cross, formed by the brightest stars of Cygnus. At nightfall the shaft of the cross extends lower left from Deneb. By 10 p.m. it sits more or less upright on the northwest horizon.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday, November 30 and December 1, 2022

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday, November 30 and December 1, written by Alan French.

The Sun rises at 7:05 A.M. on Wednesday and sets at 4:23 P.M. On Thursday it rises at 7:06 and sets at 4:22. This Thursday has 11 minutes less daylight than last Thursday. The Sun continues to move south and pass lower across our sky.

The Moon was new last Thursday afternoon and reaches first quarter Wednesday morning. As night falls on Wednesday a 53% illuminated Moon will be toward the south southeast. The Moon will be due south and highest, 36-degrees above the horizon, at 6:22 P.M. Brilliant Jupiter will be 16-degrees to the Moon’s upper left. The Moon sets just before midnight.

On Thursday evening darkness will find the Moon toward the southeast with its Earth facing half now 64% in sunlight. At 7:09 P.M. the Moon will be due south and 42 degrees high, with Jupiter only 3 ½ degrees above the Moon. As the night progresses the Moon will move closer to Jupiter. By 10:00 P.M. the pair will be toward the southwest with Jupiter 2 ¾ degrees from the Moon. The Moon will set at 1:09 am Friday morning.

These two nights will be great for doing a little lunar observing with a telescope. The terminator, the sunrise line, is still near the center of the Moon and well seen. This is where shadows are long and details stand out in stark relief. Any telescope magnifying 50 or 60 times will show a wealth of detail. Steadily held binoculars will show the larger craters and other features. With the Moon fairly low in the sky it is easier to view with binoculars than it is when the Moon is high in the sky.

Jupiter is now due south and highest around 7:12 P.M. At that time on Wednesday, Io and Callisto will be to the right of Jupiter, angled downward. Io will be close to Jupiter’s limb and Callisto will be well away. Europa and Ganymede will be to the left and above the planet and close together. A spotting scope designed for birding and nature study will show their correct orientation. Astronomical telescopes almost always change their orientation, either inverting or reversing the view.

On Thursday around 7:15 P.M. Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto will be the right of Jupiter and angled upward. Io will be to the left and close to the planet.

Mars is only a week away from opposition and appears 17.2 arcseconds in diameter through a telescope. It transits (is due south), highest, and best observed with a telescope soon after midnight. On Thursday morning the Red Planet transits at 00:20 when it will be 72 degrees above the horizon. Mars is due south and 72 degrees high at 00:15 on Friday morning. Telescopes tend to provide the best views around the time Mars is highest in our skies.

Next week, on the night of Wednesday, December 7, the full Moon will pass in front of (occult) Mars. We’ll have details on the Skywatch Line for next Wednesday and Thursday.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday November 28th, and 29th, 2022

This is the Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday November 28th, and 29th, written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 4:24 PM; night falls at 6:04. Dawn begins at 5:58 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 7:04.

Capricornus houses the waxing Moon on both nights. Monday’s southwestern Moon rises at 11:57 AM, 32 arc-minutes in size, 32% illuminated and sets at 9:26 PM. Tuesday’s northeastern Moon rises at 12:31 PM, same size, 38% lit and sets at 10:43 PM. Monday’s Moon lies 6 degrees below Saturn. Try to observe them before they are too low; 6 or 7 PM is suggested whey they are about 20 degrees high.

As mentioned, Saturn rises in southwestern Capricornus at 11:56 AM, shines with zero magnitude, 16 arc-seconds, 31 degrees highest at 4:53 PM (Civil Twilight) and sets at 9:50 PM. Neptune, in Aquarius, rises at 1:14 PM, glows with 8th magnitude, a tiny 2 arc-seconds, 41 degrees highest at 6:58 PM and sets ag 12:45 AM. Gas Giant Jupiter, in southern Pisces up at 1:29 PM, blazes with minus 2nd magnitude, a large 43 arc-seconds, 45 degrees highest at 7:21 PM and sets at 1:17 AM; the Great Red Spot ( a giant storm) is telescopically visible at 10:43 PM and sets with Jupiter.

Southeastern Uranus, in Aries, rises at 3:16 PM, 5th magnitude, 3 arc-seconds, 63 degrees highest at 10:17 PM and sets at 5:22 AM. Mars is the last to rise in eastern Taurus, rising at 4:56 PM, minus 1st magnitude, moderate 17 arc-seconds, 72 degrees highest at 12:41 AM and sets at 8:21 AM; Mars reaches Opposition next week. Mercury and Venus are still too close to the Sun to be safely observed.

By nightfall, Orion is 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 Key West, Florida. There, Eridanus ends with the bright star Achernar, which 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 rivers were revered from time immemorial. Both were sources of water and bountiful harvests. It is no coincidence that all the great civilizations and cities were founded along the banks of celebrated rivers. Ancients thought of the Earth as sort of an island surrounded by a great body of water. The creation story in the Book of Genesis alludes to this view, as do Babylonian 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, November 25, through Sunday, November 27, 2022

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 25, through Sunday, November 27, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 6:59am and sets at 4:25pm; Moon rises at 9:11am and sets at 5:44pm.

On Friday and Saturday evenings locate the very young waxing crescent Moon visiting the Teapot of Sagittarius the Archer. While the Teapot is quickly sinking more each day, it is still noticeable in a dark sky. The best time to look is about 30 to 40 minutes after sunset. The darkened side of the thin crescent Moon will be glowing with earthshine.

On Friday, Mars shines brightly to the left of the tall stack of Orion, Aldebaran with the Hyades, and the Pleiades. Mars, brightening to –1.7, clears the east-northeast horizon around the end of twilight. It gains altitude until culminating nearly overhead around 1 a.m. Mars now outshines Sirius, which rises around 9 p.m. Mars has passed between the horn-tips of Taurus, Beta and fainter Zeta Tauri, moving west in retrograde motion. It’s on its way to opposition the night of December 7-8, when the full Moon will occult Mars for much of North America and Western Europe. In a telescope Mars now appears 16.7 to 17 arcseconds wide. It will reach 17.2 arcseconds around its closest approach to Earth on December 1st. The reason Mars’s closest-to-Earth date and opposition date are a week apart stems from the ellipticity of the two planets’ orbits. Mars has the most non-circular orbit of any planet but Mercury.

Use a telescope to watch for Jupiter’s moon Io slowly reappear from behind Jupiter’s eastern limb around 7:11 p.m. on Friday, soon after dark in the Eastern time zone. Then Europa reappears around 10:41 p.m. Watch for each to gradually appear as a tiny bump on Jupiter’s limb, then separate into open space. Meanwhile, Jupiter’s Great Red Spot should cross the planet’s central meridian around 7:22 p.m.

Saturn, magnitude +0.7 in Capricornus, glows highest in the south as twilight fades. As night progresses, it moves lower toward the southwest and sets around 10 p.m.

The Andromeda Galaxy, or M31, and the Perseus Double Cluster are two of the most famous deep-sky objects. They’re both cataloged as 4th magnitude, and in a good sky you can see each with the unaided eye. Binoculars make them easier. They’re located only 22 degrees apart, very high toward the east early these evenings to the right of Cassiopeia and closer below Cassiopeia, respectively. After dark, spot the W of Cassiopeia high in the northeast. It’s standing on end, its fainter end. The third segment of the W, counting down from the top, points almost straight down. Extend that segment twice as far down as its own length, and you’re at the Double Cluster in Perseus. This pair of star-swarms is dimly apparent to the unaided eye in a dark sky using averted vision. It’s visible from almost anywhere with binoculars. In a telescope, it’s two overlapping cities of stars.

On November 27, 2001, sodium was detected in the atmosphere of an extrasolar planet by the Hubble Space Telescope. The planetary atmosphere of HD 209458b was the first outside our solar system to be measured. The planet, informally known as Osiris, was the first transiting planet discovered on November 5, 1999. It orbits the sun-like star designated HD 209458. Later measurements with the Hubble Space Telescope Imaging Spectrograph found an enormous ellipsoidal envelope of hydrogen, carbon, and oxygen around the planet with a temperature that reaches 10,000°C, resulting in a significant “tail” of atoms moving at speeds greater than the escape velocity.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday, November 23 and 24, 2022

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday, November 23 and 24, written by Alan French.

The Sun rises at 6:57 A.M. on Wednesday and sets at 4:26 P.M. On Thursday it rises at 6:58 and sets at 4:25. This Thursday has 13 ½ minutes less daylight than last Thursday. As the Sun continues to move south our days continue to grow shorter, but at a slower rate. We still have another 25 ½ minutes to lose before the days start getting longer again.

The Moon reaches new late Thursday afternoon so the night sky is moonless and dark.

There is concern among professional and amateur astronomers and those who simply enjoy the beauty of the night sky about pollution from the many satellites being orbited for global communications. Back on September 11 BlueWalker 3 was launched. Like many satellites, it was launched in a folded configuration. Recently unfolded, it is large, about 8 meters square, and large satellites reflect a lot of sunlight and appear bright. (The ISS shines brightly because it is the largest manmade object now in orbit.) Recent reports say BlueWalker 3 is now 1st magnitude, about the brightness of Deneb, the brightest star in Cygnus, the Swan, or Altair, the luminary of Aquila, the Eagle.

On Wednesday and Thursday nights, BlueWalker 3 will be visible from our area, and we can check its brightness. Both passes cross our skies high toward the northwest and move into the Earth’s shadow, fading from view, before reaching the horizon.

On Wednesday evening look for BlueWalker 3 low in the west southwest moving up from the horizon and headed northward at 6:26. Just after 6:28 it will be 35-degrees above the western horizon. Just before 6:29 it will pass close the bright Vega, which shines at magnitude 0, brighter than the claimed magnitude 1.0 of BlueWalker 3. Which do you see as brighter?

At 6:29:35 (HH:MM:SS) the satellite will reach its highest point in the sky, 55-degrees above the north northwestern horizon. Just under 20 seconds later it will move into the Earth’s shadow and fade from view.

Thursday night’s pass of BlueWalker 3 follows a similar, but slightly lower, path across our sky, and is earlier.

Look for BlueWalker 3 coming up in the west southwest at 6:08 P.M., its path angled upward toward the north. By 6:10 the satellite will be due west and 31-degrees above the horizon. By 6:10:30 it will be passing near bright Vega. Which appears brighter to your eyes?

After passing below Vega, BlueWalker 3 will pass through Draco, the Dragon, and then above, Ursa Minor, the Little Bear, familiar to most as the Little Dipper, with Polaris, the North Star, marking the end of the dipper’s handle. BlueWalker 3 will pass just above the North Star just before 6:12 and will enter the Earth’s shadow and begin fading from view at 6:12:28.

The company that launched and is testing BlueWalker 3 plans to launch 100 larger communications satellites, called BlueBirds. They are expected to be about twice the size of BlueWalker 3, and brighter as they cross our skies.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday November 21st, and 22nd, 2022

This is the Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday November 21st, and 22nd, written by Joe Slomka.

Monday’s Sun sets at 4:28 PM; night falls at 6:07. Tuesday, Dawn breaks at 5:17 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:56.

Monday’s Moon rises, in Virgo, at 4:02 AM and sets at 3:09 PM. This is the Moon’s waning phase, so the Moon appears in the daytime sky in the northwest, 32 arc-minutes in size and 5% illuminated. Tuesday’s Moon, now in Libra, rises at 5:16 AM and sets at 3:36 PM and only 1% lit; the Moon is absent from our night skies. The Moon is officially “new” at 5:57 PM on Wednesday.

Today, four planets rise during daytime; only Mars rises during Civil Twilight (4:58 PM). Southwestern Saturn, rises in Capricornus, zero magnitude, a moderate 16 arc-seconds, 31deg; highest at 5:19 PM and sets at 10:16 PM. Southern Neptune rises in Aquarius, 43deg; highest at 7:25 PM, 8th magnitude, 2 arc-seconds and sets at 1:13 AM.

Jupiter, also in the South, rises in Pisces, minus 2.5 magnitude, large 44 arc-seconds, 45deg; highest at 7:48 PM and sets at 1:44 AM.
Uranus, in the Southeast, is next, shining with 5th magnitude, 3 arc-seconds, 63deg; highest at 10:46 PM and sets at 5:51 AM. Mars is last, gaining brightness and size, rises in southern Taurus at 5:34 PM, glimmering with minus 1st magnitude, 17 arc-seconds in size, 72deg; highest at 1:19 AM and sets during daytime. Mercury and Venus are still too close to the Sun for observation.

Some ‘Summer Constellations’ are misnamed. They rise in early summer, but are best enjoyed in late summer or early fall. Between nightfall and midnight, the Andromeda saga is displayed. Her parents are Cepheus and Cassiopeia. Cepheus is house-shaped and points to the North Star. Andromeda is depicted by a chain of stars that flow from the upper left of the Great Square of Pegasus, the Horse. Perseus is a constellation below Cassiopeia with a long and a short leg. Cetus, the sea monster, swims low on the horizon. These constellations together account for twelve percent of the celestial sphere. All are in excellent position to be seen tonight.

Skywatch Line for Friday, November 18, through Sunday, November 20, 2022

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, November 18, through Sunday, November 20, written by Sam Salem.

On Friday, Sun rises at 6:51am and sets at 4:30pm; Moon rises at 12:39am and sets at 2:06pm. The old waning crescent Moon can guide you to the bright star Spica on the mornings of Sunday and Monday. A good time to look is roughly an hour before sunrise.

Catch the old crescent Moon by Spica before sunrise. Notice the glow of earthshine on the thin crescent Moon.

The annual Leonids meteor shower, derived from material left by repeated passages of periodic Comet 55P/Tempel-Tuttle, runs from November 6 to November 30. The peak of the shower, when up to 15 meteors per hour are predicted, occurred on Thursday evening, when Earth was traversing the densest part of the comet’s debris train. More meteors will be apparent on Friday in the hours before dawn, when the radiant in the head of Leo will be highest in the southeastern sky. Unfortunately, the bright waning crescent Moon will reduce the quantity of fainter meteors we see.

Orion clears the eastern horizon by about 8 p.m. Upper left of Orion, bright Mars glares.

Mars, magnitude –1.6 in eastern Taurus, clears the east-northeast horizon around the end of twilight and gains altitude through much of the night. Mars now outshines even Sirius, which rises around 10 p.m. Mars-colored Aldebaran, only an eighth as bright at magnitude +0.9, sparkles to Mars’s upper right about a fist and a half at arm’s length. Look far upper left of Mars, and there’s Capella. Just a little farther to the planet’s lower right is Mars-colored Betelgeuse. In a telescope, Mars is now about 16.5 arcseconds wide, almost the 17.2 arcseconds it will display around its closest approach to Earth on December 1st. Its opposition comes on the night of December 7-8, when the Moon will occult Mars for much of North America and Western Europe.

Jupiter shines high in the southeast in twilight at magnitude –2.8. It’s highest in the south as early as 8 p.m. in dim constellation of Pisces. Saturn, magnitude +0.7 in the constellation of Capricornus, glows highest in the south as twilight fades. As night progresses, it moves lower toward the southwest and sets around 10 p.m.

Fomalhaut, the brightest star in the southern constellation of Piscis Austrinus the “Southern Fish”, crosses the meridian due south around 7 p.m. At that time, the Pointers of the Big Dipper stand upright low due north, straight below Polaris. Also at that time, the first stars of Orion are soon to rise above the east horizon. Starting with the rise of Betelgeuse, it takes Orion’s main figure about an hour to completely clear the horizon.

On Saturday, Algol in Perseus should be at its minimum brightness, magnitude 3.4 instead of its usual 2.1, for a couple hours centered on 10:25 p.m.

Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday, November 16 and 17, 2022

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Wednesday and Thursday, November 16 and 17, written by Alan French.

The Sun rises at 6:48 A.M. on Wednesday and sets at 4:31 P.M. On Thursday it rises at 6:50 and sets at 4:30. This Thursday has 15 ½ minutes less daylight than last Thursday.

The Moon reaches third or last quarter Wednesday morning and rises late. Moonrise on Wednesday is at 11:35 P.M. It will rise in the east northeast and appear 43% illuminated. On Thursday the Moon will not rise until after midnight, making its appearance at 0:39 A.M. Friday morning with its Earth facing half 25% in sunlight. The Moon will be new, roughly between the Earth and Sun, on Wednesday, November 23.

The International Space Station (ISS) has returned to our evening sky and makes an interesting low pass across the southern sky on Thursday evening. During this pass the ISS will move into the Earth’s shadow and fade from view as it passes close to brilliant Jupiter.

Look for the ISS rising from the south southwestern horizon between 6:05 and 6:06 P.M. Thursday. It will move slowly at first, but will speed up and brighten as it rises higher. At 6:06 it will shine at magnitude -0.5. Just after 6:07 the ISS will pass below Saturn and by 6:07:30 (HH:MM:SS) it will be due south and bright.

At 6:08:30, as the ISS shines at magnitude -2.9, and is near Jupiter, now at magnitude -2.7, in the southeast. Can you see any difference in their brightness? Seconds later, the space station will enter the Earth’s shadow and begin fading from view. How much farther across the sky can you follow it?

The Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will hold their November meeting at 7:30 P.M. on Thursday, November 17, at miSci (15 Museum Drive, Schenectady, NY 12308). The program, presented by club president Ted Close, will be about his visit to the Royal Observatory of Edinburgh. Guests are welcome, club meetings are open to all and are free.

Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday November 14th, and 15th, 2022

This is the Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday November 14th, and 15th, written by Joe Slomka.

Monday’s Sun sets at 4:33 PM; night falls at 6:11. Tuesday, Dawn breaks at 5:09 AM and ends with the Sun rising at 6:47 AM.

Monday’s waning Moon resides in northeastern Cancer, 64% illuminated, 29 arc minutes in size, rises at 9:26 PM and sets at 12:56 AM, Tuesday. Tuesday’s Last Quarter Moon rises in northeastern Leo at 10:30 PM, same size but 55% lit and sets at 1:22 PM on Wednesday. Monday’s Moon is at apogee – farthest from Earth. It is also 3½°from Cancer’s Beehive star cluster – a great binocular object.

If you see a lot of meteors, there are 2 active meteor showers. The first is the Northern Taurids, which reached maximum of 15 per hour on the 12th but continues for a few days; they seem to originate from the constellation Taurus. Leonids only last one day, the 18th, with and average 20 per hour.

Three planets rise during the afternoon: Saturn, Neptune and Jupiter. Southern Saturn is the first to rise in Capricornus, zero magnitude, 16 arc-seconds in size, 30° highest at 5:46 PM and sets at 10:42 PM. Neptune, in Aquarius, is 2 arc-seconds, 43° highest at 7:53 PM, and sets at 1:41 AM.

In Pisces, giant Jupiter, 21° to Neptune’s left, blazes with minus 2nd magnitude, a large 45 arc-seconds, 45° highest at 8:16 PM and sets at 2:12 AM. Jovian moon Io begins to be occulted (eclipsed) at 1 AM Tuesday, the Great Red Spot (a giant storm) becomes visible at 1:15, followed by Europa 1:55. Io’s eclipse ends at 4:18 AM and Europa’s at 6:40.

Uranus, in southeast Aries rises at 4:13 PM, 5th magnitude, 3 arc-seconds, 41° highest at 11:14 PM and sets at 6:20 AM. Eastern Mars continues to brighten and enlarge in Taurus, now at minus 1st magnitude, 16 arc-seconds, rises at 6:11 PM, 71° highest at 1:54 AM and sets at 9:32 AM. Mars is less than a month away from its Opposition. Mercury and Venus continue to be hidden in the Sun’s glare.

Ceres was the first discovered asteroid. It was detected on Jan 1, 1800. Ceres was the goddess of agriculture and taught humans to grow grain. Ceres orbits the Sun about midway between Jupiter and Mars every 4.6 years. It is the largest asteroid, about 600 miles across, about a quarter size of the Moon.

Recent spacecraft improved our view of Ceres. We now have hints of its structure. Its biggest crater, Occator, is almost 60 miles wide and two miles deep. Ceres has several layers; two of the tiers (the crust and mantle) are separated by a level of muddy brine, which occasionally leaks onto the surface. In binoculars and small telescopes, it appears as a small, faint star to the lower left of the bright star Aldebaran. This year, it is best seen during the hours between Midnight and Dawn.