JANAURY 2011, STARS OVER WOLLUMBIN, OUR SOUTHERN SKIES

January’s visible (and some invisible) Planets

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MERCURY became a Morning Star after meeting the Sun on December 20 (Inferior Conjunction).

Our little brother will rise before the Sun in the morning until early March 2011, returning as Morning Star only in late April.

On January 9 Mercury will reach maximum visual distance from the Sun, shining at – o.3 magnitude and could be spotted, low in the South-East, until the Sun comes up.

From November 2010 to June 2011 VENUS is donning her Morning Star’s bright mantle. During the month of January our sister planet will rise three hours before the Sun (around 3 am, Australia Eastern Summer Time), giving early risers plenty of time for observation.

On January 8 Venus will reach maximum visual distance from the Sun (47 degrees), just one day before Mercury does the same.

Venus will be the brightest object in the morning sky this month, reaching a magnitude of -4.6, ten times brighter than Jupiter!

MARS has disappeared from the sky in December, as it is now immersed in the light of the Sun, reaching its conjunction with our Star in early February.

Mars will become visible again as a Morning Star in mid-May 2011. The Red Planet will rise before the Sun then until 2012.

JUPITER has a magnitude of -2.3 at the start of the month and dominates the sky after sunset. By month’s end Jupiter will set about 2 and half hours after the Sun.

Jupiter will slowly lose intensity and size as the month progresses, down to a -2.2 magnitude by the end of January.

The giant planet will be very very close to Uranus at the beginning of January, becoming conjunct with this remote world, for the third and last time, on the 4th, the day of the Partial Solar Eclipse in Capricorn. They will be less than a visual degree apart. The giant planet reaches a magnitude of -2.4, while Uranus is a much dimmer 6 magnitude, visible only with a good pairs of binoculars or through a telescope.

The first few days of January are better suited to spot Uranus because the eccentric planet will be only half a degree away from Jupiter. They will remain close for the rest of the month, visually one degree apart from each other. To spot them look for the bright one (Jupiter) just above the square of Pegasus, the Winged Horse Constellation.

Here is a Stellarium’s snapshot of the Jupiter-Uranus’ conjunction, taken on January 5, around 9 pm, looking West.

Jupiter and Uranus became conjunct for the first time in nearly 14 years on June 9. Jupiter and Uranus meet cyclically (synodical cycle) every 13.7 years. This time they are playing a prolonged duet, though, having  met twice in 2010 (June 9 and September 22) and a third time on January 2, 2011. This is a rarer opportunity for the energies of these planets to blend for a sustained period, so exerting a greater overall influence over the affairs of the whole year. The last time Jupiter and Uranus met three times was in 1983, 27 years ago.

Animation of the triple conjunction of Jupiter-Uranus in 2010/11, from Martin J.Powell astronomical site, can be found HERE.

SATURN is a Morning Star now, rising about one am at the beginning of January and around 11 pm at the end of the month (Australian Eastern Summer Time).

The ringed planet’s brightness will increase slightly during the month. Viewed through a telescope the rings are opening up again now and the so called Cassini’s division (dark band between the two major rings’ groups) can be observed again.

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All the Sky Snapshots have been generated using Stellarium, a wonderful Planetarium freeware software.

Information for the Sky Events has been gathered from these web sites:

http://www.suite101.com/profile.cfm/kellykw

http://home.mira.net/~reynella/skywatch/ssky.htm#update

http://astroblogger.blogspot.com/

http://homepage.ntlworld.com/mjpowell/Astro/Naked-Eye-Planets/Naked-Eye-Planets.htm#PlanetList

http://www.astronomy.com/en/News-Observing/Sky%20this%20Month.aspx

http://www.curtrenz.com/astronomical.html

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