We begin the "oughts" on a high note for planet watchers, as Jupiter and Saturn ride high in the January sky, visible all night, just fifteen degrees apart from each other and moving closer.
Jupiter's southern equatorial band (SEB) has been odd this year; The portion of the band following the Great Red Spot (GRS) is unusually light, almost invisible in small telescopes. Larger telescopes and steady air will show that this almost invisible band is actually filled with white ovals, and the area north of it filled with turbulent swirls and eddies. Dark festoons stream down from the NEB into this zone of turbulence - a lovely sight!
As always, the dance of Jupiter's moons and their shadows across the face of the planet is fun to watch. Jupiter is passing through eastern quadrature (on the 17th), so the distances between each moon and the shadow it casts will be at a maximum.
Saturn shows a ring tilt of nineteen degrees: not as much as the middle of last year, nor as great as we'll see later in 2000 (24.3 degrees in early September), but still very generous compared to most years' views.
Mars continues to hang low in the southwest at sunset.
The innermost planet, Mercury, and the outermost three, Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto, are all too close to the sun (from our vantage point, that is!) to be observable this month.
The earth reaches perihelion, the closest approach to the sun this year, on January 3rd around 9pm PST.
Venus is in the morning sky, rising a few hours before sunrise.
Previous | Next