Sky Report by Ted Gruber
Mercury returns to the evening sky in mid-February and makes its best evening appearance of the year later in the month. The innermost planet shines at magnitude -0.9 on February 20, and although it becomes dimmer each evening, it climbs slightly higher in the sky until it reaches its greatest eastern elongation on February 26. That evening, Mercury appears 11° above the western horizon about 30 minutes after sunset and shines at magnitude -0.4. Mercury remains visible in the evening sky through the first week of March, but it appears fainter and lower to the horizon with each passing day, dimming to magnitude 2.0 by March 7.
Mars (magnitude 1.1) becomes visible high in the southwestern sky as darkness falls. Although nowhere near as bright as it was last summer, the red planet is still easy to spot, and only dims very slightly over the next month. Mars remains visible until setting in the west around midnight.
Jupiter (magnitude -2.0), Saturn (magnitude 0.6), and Venus (magnitude -4.1) are easily visible in the pre-dawn southeastern sky. Jupiter now rises around 3:30am and about 90 minutes sooner by mid-March (3:00am adjusting for daylight savings time). Saturn rises next, followed by Venus, with the gap between them increasing each morning. The three planets appear evenly spaced apart in mid-March.
Last (2/26), new (3/6), first (3/14), full (3/20), last (3/28).
Messier of the Month – M50 or Heart-Shaped Cluster
M50, also known as the Heart-Shaped Cluster, is a magnitude 5.9 open cluster in the constellation Monoceros, east of Orion. It is about 3,000 light years distant, contains between 200 and 500 stars, and has an estimated age of 140 million years. Binoculars resolve two or three bright stars, smaller telescopes reveal the cluster’s heart shape, and larger telescopes resolve 40 or more stars.
Sky Report by Ted Gruber
A total lunar eclipse occurs the night of Sunday, January 20, and will be visible across the entire western hemisphere. The partial eclipse begins at 7:33pm local time, totality begins at 8:41pm, maximum eclipse occurs at 9:12pm, totality ends at 9:43pm, and the partial eclipse ends at 10:50pm. Totality lasts for 62 minutes. The next total lunar eclipse visible here occurs in May 2021.
Look for Mars (magnitude 0.9) in high the southwestern sky as darkness falls. The red planet remains visible until setting in the west around midnight.
Mercury returns to the evening sky in mid-February, shining at magnitude -1.1. The innermost planet makes its best evening sky appearance of the year later that month, but it dims to magnitude -0.1 by the end of the month.
Venus (magnitude -4.1) and Jupiter (magnitude -1.9) dominate the early morning southeastern sky. Through January 22, brighter Venus rises first with Jupiter following soon after. Venus rises a bit later with each passing day, while Jupiter rises a bit earlier. The two planets make their closest apparent approach on January 22 when Venus passes 2° north of Jupiter just before dawn. After that, Jupiter rises first with Venus right on its tail.
The moon passes about 0.1° north of Venus the morning of January 31.
Saturn (magnitude 0.6) returns to the morning sky in February, rising after Jupiter and Venus. Venus passes 1.1° north of Saturn the morning of February 18.
Full (1/21), last (1/27), new (2/4), first (2/12), full (2/19), last (2/26).
Messier of the Month – M79
M79 is a magnitude 8.6 globular cluster in the constellation Lepus the Hare. It is about 42,000 light years distant, contains about 150,000 mostly red giant stars, and has an estimated age of 11.7 billion years. M79 appears as a fuzzy star through binoculars, and as a comet-like patch of light through smaller telescopes. Larger telescopes will resolve the cluster’s outer regions.
Sky Report by Ted Gruber
Saturn (magnitude 0.5) makes its final appearance in the evening sky until next summer. Look for the ringed planet low in the southwest as darkness falls through mid-December.
Although Mars (magnitude 0.2) is now considerably dimmer than it was during its summer peak, it currently lies much higher in the evening sky. Mars is visible in the southern sky at twilight until setting in the west-southwest around 11:00pm.
Venus (magnitude -4.8) rises in the southeastern sky around 4:00am and remains visible until fading into the morning light.
Mercury (magnitude -0.5) returns to the morning sky at the end of November. It reaches its peak altitude about 10° above the horizon around 45 minutes before sunrise in mid-December. Thereafter, Mercury dips a little lower each morning but remains visible through early January.
Jupiter (magnitude -1.8) returns to the morning sky in early December. It rises after Mercury through December 21, and before Mercury starting December 22.
The moon passes 4° north of Venus the morning of December 3, 2° north of Mercury the morning of December 5, 1° north of Saturn the evening of December 8, and 4° south of Mars the evening of December 14.
Mars and Neptune (magnitude 7.9) are at conjunction on December 7. Neptune will appear as a faint blue “star” immediately east-northeast of Mars on the evening of December 6, and immediately southwest of Mars the next night.
Mercury passes 0.9° north of Jupiter the morning of December 21.
The Leonids are active through November 30, peaking the night of November 17-18. They are known for producing some of the most intense meteor storms recorded, but this year we can expect 10-15 meteors per hour during the peak.
The Geminids are active from December 4-17, peaking the night of December 13-14, under a favorable moon that sets by 11:00pm. The meteors appear to radiate from a point in the constellation Gemini, near the bright stars Castor and Pollux. Predictions call for as many as 120 meteors per hour during the peak.
First (11/15), full (11/23), last (11/29), new (12/7), first (12/15), full (12/22), last (12/29).
Messier of the Month – M56
M56 is a magnitude 8.3 globular cluster in the constellation Lyra. It is about 32,900 light years distant and 84 light years across. It contains about 80,000 stars and its estimated age is 13.7 billion years.
M56 is one of the more challenging Messier objects to observe with binoculars because of its relatively dim magnitude and the fact that it does not have a bright central core. In larger binoculars, M56 appears as a slightly out of focus star. Smaller telescopes show the cluster as a fuzzy patch of light, while an 8-inch or larger scope will resolve individual stars.
Sky Report by Ted Gruber
Jupiter (magnitude -1.8) and Mercury (magnitude -0.2) are visible low in the southwestern sky at dusk. Both planets are visible until they set 30 to 60 minutes after sundown. Mercury sets first through October, and then Jupiter sets first through mid-November. The two planets lie only about 5° above the horizon, so you’ll need an unobstructed southwestern view to see them.
Saturn (magnitude 0.5) becomes visible in the southwestern sky as darkness falls. Look for the ringed planet about 20° above the horizon.
Mars (magnitude -1.0) is visible in the southern sky from twilight until it sets about 1:00am. On November 15, the first quarter moon passes 1° south of Mars.
Venus (magnitude -4.7) returns to the morning sky in early November. It rises about 30 minutes before sunrise on the November 1, two hours before sunrise by mid-November, and about three hours before sunrise by the end of November. Venus remains visible until fading into the morning light.
The Orionids are active through November 7, with a predicted peak in the early hours of October 21. Most predictions call for a peak rate of 20 meteors per hour.
The Leonids are active from November 5-30. The Leonids are known for producing some of the most intense meteor storms recorded, but this year we can expect 10-15 meteors per hour during the predicted peak the night of November 17-18.
Full (10/24), last (10/31), new (11/7), first (11/15), full (11/23), last (11/29).
Messier of the Month – M71
M71 is a magnitude 6.1 globular cluster in the constellation Sagitta. It is about 12,000 light years distant and has an estimated age of 9 to 10 billion years. With a diameter of 27 light years, M71 is one of the smallest known globular clusters. Its 20,000+ stars are loosely packed, which explains why it was originally thought to be an open cluster. M71 appears as a fuzzy patch of gray light through binoculars; larger telescopes will resolve individual stars.
Sky Report by Ted Gruber
Venus is visible low in the west-southwestern sky just after sunset through very early October. It lies about 5° to 10° above the horizon and is visible for only about 30 minutes after sunset. Venus reaches its peak magnitude of -4.8 on September 21. The planet returns to the morning sky in early November.
Jupiter (magnitude -1.8) is visible in the southwestern sky at dusk. It now remains visible for about two hours after sunset, and for about an hour after sunset in mid-October.
Saturn (magnitude 0.5) appears about 25° above the south-southwest horizon as darkness falls. It remains visible until it sets in the southwest about four hours past sunset. The moon passes 1.8° north of Saturn about 8:00pm on October 14.
Mars (magnitude -1.0) is visible in the southeastern sky at dusk and remains visible until it sets in the southwest around 1:00am. The moon passes 5° north of Mars just past midnight on September 20 (the night of September 19-20).
Orionid Meteor Shower
The Orionids are active from October 2 through November 7, peaking during the early morning hours of October 21. Most predictions call for a peak rate of 20 meteors per hour. However, the Orionids produced 50-75 meteors per hour at their peak from 2006-2009, and there are theories this repeats in a 12-year cycle.
Full (9/24), last (10/2), new (10/8), first (10/16), full (10/24), last (10/31).
Messier of the Month – M27 (Dumbbell Nebula)
M27, better known as the Dumbbell Nebula, is a planetary nebula in Vulpecula. It was the first planetary nebula discovered (Messier, 1764) and is the brightest of the four planetary nebulae in the Messier catalog. At magnitude 7.5, it is the second brightest planetary nebula overall, behind only the Helix Nebula. M27 is 1,360 light years distant, and its estimated age ranges from 9,800 to 14,600 years. Through binoculars, M27 appears as a smudge of gray light.
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