J A N U A R Y S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
Amazingly, Mars is still bright in the western night sky, although it is fading slowly. The big news now about Mars will concern the spacecraft due to land. The British Beagle is expected to land in late December. The two American rovers are due to land in January. Watch for their return images, and dont forget to take a look at Mars in the sky. [Note: The British Beagle2, due to land on Mars on Christmas Day, has so far failed to communicate. As of 12/29/03, its fate is unknown.Ed.]
It is Venus, brilliant lady of the heavens, who now puts on a spectacular show in the southwestern sky shortly after sunset. Venus is larger than Mars, and comes closer to Earth. Venus is low in the sky in January, but she slowly climbs away from the twilight glow during winter and spring, and continues to brighten as she moves higher into the darker sky. Watch for a delicate crescent moon below Venus on January 23, just after New Moon in Aquarius.
Saturn opposed Sun on December 31. This means that it lies opposite the Sun in the sky, like a full moon. Saturn will rise at sunset, and set at sunrise, and dominates the entire night sky. Its interesting that its such an astrologically active energy as well now.
On January 6, the day Mercury turns direct, Moon and Saturn rise together. Catch them both in the eastern sky just after sunset. By 8 p.m. local time, Saturn is high enough to show as a bright object in the constellation of Gemini, near the Twins, Castor and Pollux. By mid-January, Saturn rises in a dark sky and appears even brighter. I see it as a gold color.
Jupiter rises late, close to midnight. It is the brightest object in our sky, and is now visible in the morning sky. It is near the hind legs of Leo, the Lion.
Mercury is barely visible in the early morning sky. It may be visible during the middle two weeks of January, low in the southeast, about an hour before sunrise. You may need binoculars to see it. It is near the old crescent moon on January 18-19. At the same time, Moon and Mercury are both near the reddish star, Antares.
Earth reaches perihelion, its nearest point to the Sun, on January 4.