Status Report

The Sky This Week 15 – 21 Jan 2003

By SpaceRef Editor
January 28, 2003
Filed under , ,

The Moon brightens up the morning skies this week, smiling down on early risers in the chilly pre-dawn air. Last Quarter occurs on the 25th at 3:33 am Eastern Standard Time. Look for Luna above the bright star Spica on the morning of the 24th. On the 27th she lies just 2 degrees to the right of ruddy Mars in the head of Scorpius. The next morning finds her holding court with dazzling Venus as the first rays of dawn break the eastern horizon.

By now I’m sure everyone has noticed how much later the Sun seems to set compared to just a few short weeks ago. Old Sol is now steadily eroding the evenings by some 90 seconds per day, a rate that he’ll maintain steadily for the next several months. The corresponding time of sunrise, however, hasn’t quite caught up to the sunset rate yet, so it’s still quite dark in the breakfast hour. Both times will change most rapidly around the time of the Vernal Equinox, just 8 short weeks away

Saturn crosses the meridian at around 9:30, and is best placed for telescopic viewing between dusk and midnight. The ringed planet rides high in the sky for northern hemisphere observers, currently providing us with the best view of his beautiful rings and subtle cloud belts that we’ll have for the next 30 years. Almost any form of optical aid will show the mysterious ring system, but to fully appreciate the alien nature of these incredible structures you really need a good quality astronomical telescope.

Hard on Saturn’s heels is the bright glow of Jupiter. The giant planet reaches opposition on Groundhog Day, but he’s easily spotted now about an hour after sunset. By the late evening hours he is well up in the sky, and seems to wait patiently for you to swing the scope around from Saturn. Jupiter is currently transiting the barren starfields of Cancer, the Crab, about halfway between the Twin Stars of Gemini, Castor and Pollux, and the bright heart of Leo, the Lion, the star Regulus.

Ruddy Mars has given up his pursuit of dazzling Venus in the early morning sky. The red planet may now be found wandering through the head of Scorpius. He gets a call from the waning Moon on the morning of the 27th, and he forms an attractive triangle with Venus and his ruddy rival Antares for a few mornings around this date.

The fleet planet Mercury makes a brief appearance toward the end of next week, rising below and to the left of Venus at around 6:00 am. Skywatchers with a clear ocean horizon may be able to see him drifting above the ìhandleî of the teapot-shaped asterism of Sagittarius, who reminds us that we still may be in the grip of winter, but summer’s not far behind.

For information on BRIGHT SATELLITES passing over Washington, DC this week, click

For more information eclipses, click

For more information on meteor showers, click

For more information on observable comets, click

For pictures of Comet Hale-Bopp, click

For more information on the digital planet pictures on this page, click

Please address questions to:
Public Affairs Office, United States Naval Observatory

SpaceRef staff editor.