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January Night Sky

Looking east at 8:00 p.m. on the 15th.

January 2008 Night Sky

—Charlie Christmann

Space Shuttle for Sale

What to do with the NASA space shuttles after they retire in 2010? This has become a dilemma for the space agency. Their answer is to offer two of the three remaining shuttles (Discovery, Atlantis, and Endeavour) for sale—with restrictions, of course!

According to news reports, if you can insure that the orbiters are properly displayed, that they are used to “inspire the American public and students in particular” and if possible do so without NASA having to pay for the vehicle‘s preparation and transfer, you can have your choice. So, for a mere $28.2 million to get the orbiter into a “safe” condition, $8 million for getting it ready to actually display somewhere, and $5.8 million for ferrying it on NASA’s modified Boeing 747 to an airport near you (all prices are estimates only), that baby is yours. Actually, NASA wants museums to acquire them, not individuals, but I’m sure if you have the cash and the location to display it indoors, they would probably talk.

The third shuttle? It goes to the Smithsonian’s National Air and Space Museum—assuming they can come up with the cash, that is.

A New Year Shower

The 2008 meteor shower in December, the Geminids, was a big bust because of the nearly full moon. For a substitute, you can try the Quadrantid (pronounced KWA-dran-tid) shower.

This one is notoriously unpredictable, but with no moon, there is the chance to see a good shower. In 2009, peak activity is expected in the pre-dawn hours of January 3rd. The peak will strongly favor western North American viewers. The International Meteor Organization expects the maximum activity at 5:50 a.m. MDT on the 3rd. Quadrantid rates will likely range from sixty to 120 per hour for New Mexico viewers.

The meteors are named after the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, shown in some nineteenth-century star charts roughly midway between the end of the handle of the Big Dipper and the quadrilateral of stars marking the head of the constellation Draco. That means that the radiant, or point of origin in the sky, is in the north. But look at as much sky as possible, the meteors can appear anywhere and seem to be traveling away from the radiant in all directions.

So get up early, dress warmly, and enjoy the show.

Saturn Surprises

If you get out your telescopes this month and find Saturn, don’t be surprised if the rings are not there. This phenomenon occurs every fourteen to fifteen years. It is just a ring plane crossing. Ring plane crossings occur periodically when the tilt and position in Saturn’s orbit combine to show a unique side-on view of the rings. From this position, we are looking at the edge of the thin rings. But, this configuration also gives smaller telescopes a better chance to observe the icy moons orbiting close to Saturn. Observers may also be able to see Saturn’s strangely blue north pole.

Bright Stars

Look east-southeast this month at 8:00 p.m. The sky is full of bright stars. See the sky chart for details.

The Planets and the Moon

The best chance to see Mercury will be on the 4th. This is when the planet is at its greatest elongation, its highest point in the sky. It will be about four degrees (two finger widths at arm‘s length) to the upper left of Jupiter in the southwest after sunset.

Venus is high in the southwest after sunset, still shining very brightly. On the 14th, Venus reaches it greatest elongation, too. Take a look on the 29th for the three-day-old Moon near Venus. You might also see Uranus in the group. (See below.)

The Earth reaches its closest point in its orbit to the sun on the 4th at 9:00 p.m.

Mars is hiding in the sunlight, but you may quickly see it low on the southwestern horizon just after sunset early in the month.

Jupiter is also in the southwest after sunset. On the 1st, use binoculars to find Jupiter about forty-five minutes after sunset. You can find Mercury to the left of Jupiter.

Saturn has moved to the eastern sky after 10:00 p.m. Look to the east at 10:00 to 10:30 p.m. on the 14th. You’ll see the Moon, joined by Saturn, rising together.

Uranus is difficult to see with the naked eye, even under dark skies. But, if you have binoculars on the 22nd, two hours after sunset, find Venus above the southwestern horizon, and you may see Uranus, too. The greenish faint disk of Uranus will be to the left and just below Venus.

The Moon is full at 9:27 p.m. on the 10th. It is new at 1:55 a.m. on the 26th.

Astronomer Charlie Christmann will present a lecture on the Sun and the Sun-Earth Connection on February 7 to The Albuquerque Astronomical Society.






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