SJAA Ephemeris January 2001 | SJAA Home | Contents | Previous | Next

The Shallow Sky

A New Year For Planet Watchers

Akkana Peck

Hope you had decent weather for the Christmas morning partial solar eclipse! Alas, those of us in North America entirely miss out on its companion total lunar eclipse on January 9th.

But we can console ourselves with some great views of the planets. Jupiter and Saturn are high in the sky in early evening and observable most of the night.
North is down in this sketch by Akkana Peck showing her view of some of the interesting Jupiter features visible this year.
Jupiter continues to be very active this year; in addition to the Great Red Spot becoming red again after so many pale years, there's been an unusual amount of activity in the north equatorial band, with several light-colored rifts visible in the band through even a small telescope, and a pronounced split in the south band almost all the way around the planet. Meanwhile, festoons, ovals, and transits of the moons and their shadows come and go, keeping the Jupiter observer interested with a constantly changing panorama.

Saturn is beautiful as always; now that we're past opposition, observers can watch the shadow of the planet on the rings lengthen from week to week, while watching the moons (how many can you see?) and gauging how much of the subtle color you can see in its bands (some observers have reported that the planet seems more colorful this year than last).

Venus continues its excellent evening apparition, hanging high in the western sky for hours after sunset. It crosses from slightly gibbous to slightly crescent this month, and grows to half an arcminute in diameter by the end of the month (about 2/3 the size of Jupiter's disk). By the end of the month, it will be joined by Mercury, low in the sky after sunset. Mercury reaches greatest elongation on the 28th, showing a waning third-quarter phase.

Mars rises after midnight and is well placed for early morning observing. It's still small and you'll have to work hard to see any detail, but it's growing in brightness and apparent size as it approaches its next opposition, this coming June.

Neptune and Uranus are buried in twilight low in the sunset sky; Pluto is on the other side of the sun, low in the dawn twilight.

Mail to: Akkana Peck
Copyright © 2001 San Jose Astronomical Association
Last updated: July 19, 2007

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