2018-01-01 / Stargazing

Full moon hails the new year

For January 2018, the largest “supermoon” of the year is New Year’s evening’s full moon, only 221,000 miles from earth, and as big as it can appear in our sky.

The celestial fireworks continue with the Quadrantid meteor shower, peaking on the morning of Jan. 4. The meteors will appear to come out of the northeast sky.

The last quarter moon is on Jan. 8, and the waning crescent moon passes just above a nice conjunction of Mars and Jupiter in the morning sky on Jan. 11. The slender waning crescent lies just above Saturn and Mercury in the dawn on Jan. 14 (use binocs an hour before sunrise).

The new moon is Jan. 16. First quarter moon is in the evening sky on Jan. 24, and the second full moon of January, a “Blue Moon,” is on Jan. 31.

Note that due to only having 28 days, this year February will have no full moons during the whole month, a very rare occurrence.


In Perseus is the California Nebula, a huge star-forming region nearby in our own spiral arm of the galaxy. This wide-angle view of its glowing red hydrogen is by EAAA member Ed Magowan. In Perseus is the California Nebula, a huge star-forming region nearby in our own spiral arm of the galaxy. This wide-angle view of its glowing red hydrogen is by EAAA member Ed Magowan. Mercury is visible in the southeastern dawn sky in January, reaching greatest elongation 23 degrees west of the rising sun on Jan. 1. It passes 1.1 degrees from Saturn on Jan. 12.

Two days earlier, Mars passes only 0.3 degrees from much brighter Jupiter, both rising about 3 a.m. However, Mars and the Earth will be unusually close this July, and for several weeks this summer, Mars will be even brighter than Jupiter, something that has not happened since 2003. Venus lies behind the sun all month, and is not visible again until the twilight in February.

The constellation Cassiopeia makes a striking W in the northwest. She contains many nice star clusters for binocular users in her outer arm of our Milky Way, extending to the northeast now. Her daughter, Andromeda, starts with the northeast corner star of Pegasus’ Square and goes northeast with two more bright stars in a row.

It is from the middle star, beta Andromeda, that we proceed about a quarter the way to the top star in the W of Cassiopeia and look for a faint blur with the naked eye. M-31, the Andromeda Galaxy, is the most distant object visible with the naked eye, lying about 2.5 million light years distant.

Overhead Andromeda’s hero, Perseus, rises. Between him and Cassiopeia is the fine Double Cluster, faintly visible with the naked eye and two fine binocular objects in the same field. Perseus contains the famed eclipsing binary star Algol, where the Arabs imagined the eye of the gorgon Medusa would lie. It fades to a third its normal brightness for six out of every 70 hours, as a larger but cooler orange giant covers about 80 percent of the smaller but hotter, and thus brighter, companion as seen from Earth.

Look at Perseus’ feet for the famed Pleiades cluster. They lie about 400 light years distant, and over 250 stars are members of this fine group.

East of the seven sisters is the V of stars marking the face of Taurus the Bull, with bright orange Aldebaran as his eye. The V of stars is the Hyades cluster, older than the blue Pleaides, but about half their distance.

Yellow Capella, a giant star the same temperature and color as our much smaller sun, dominates the overhead sky. It is part of the pentagon of stars making up Auriga, the Charioteer (think Ben Hur).

Several nice binocular Messier open clusters are found in the winter milky way here.

East of Auriga, the twins, Castor and Pollux, highlight the Gemini.

University of West Florida alumni can associate the pair with Jason and the Golden Fleece legend, for they were the first two Argonauts to sign up on his crew of adventurers.

South of Gemini, Orion is the most familiar winter constellation, dominating the eastern sky at dusk. The reddish supergiant Betelguese marks his eastern shoulder, while bluewhite supergiant Rigel stands opposite on his west knee.

Just south of the belt, hanging like a sword downward, is M-42, the Great Nebula of Orion, an outstanding binocular and telescopic stellar nursery. It is part of a huge spiral arm gas cloud, with active starbirth all over the place.

The EAAA is glad to announce that we will be hosting year around deep sky observing sessions on Saturday evenings for the public at the Big Lagoon State Park. Our next gazes are scheduled for Jan. 12 and 26, Feb. 9 and 23 and March 9 and

23, 2018. We hope to have our beach gazes for Pencasola

Beach Pavilion and Fort Pickens ready by April 2018.

Download the

January Evening Sky Map at skymaps.com for a list of the best objects to view with the naked eye, binoculars & scopes

For more information on the Escambia Amateur Astronomers, visit us on Facebook at “Escambia Amateur Astronomer’s Association”. You can also call our PSC sponsor, Lauren Rogers at Pensacola State College at (850) 484-1155, or e-mail her at lrogers@pensacolastate.edu.

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