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Our Friendly Skies

January 04, 2007|by ROB MARTIN and ANDY SMELTZER

Visible Evening Planets

VENUS is visible during evening twilight.

SATURN rises in mid-evening.

Visible Morning Planets

MARS rises in the east during twilight.

JUPITER rises in the east during twilight.

SATURN is high in the southwest at sunrise.

After the lack of easily visible planets last fall, our winter sky displays several easily seen planets. Visibility will improve through the month and season.

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The first visible January planet is Venus. It is low in the southwest after dusk, setting a little over an hour after the Sun. It is easy to see because of its brightness. On Jan. 18, Venus is only about three Moon widths from the planet Neptune. You'll need a telescope to see Neptune.

The next evening planet it Saturn. Early in January, it rises around 8 p.m., but rises as early at 6 p.m. by month's end. At nearly 0 magnitude, it appears as a bright "star" in Leo the Lion east of the bright winter constellations. It will be visible until the morning hours.

Mercury reaches superior conjunction on Jan. 7. It is lined up with the sun, but on the opposite side that day. It might be visible right after sunset the end of the month.

Looking toward the east in the morning reveals the bright Jupiter. It rises around 5 a.m. early in January and 3 a.m. later in the month. It is around -2 magnitude near Scorpius the Scorpion.

Mars is faint at +1.5 magnitude low in the southeast in the morning twilight. It doesn't improve in visibility much this month.

Sun and moon

Even though the winter is the coldest time of the year, Earth is actually closer to the sun in winter than the summer. The seasons are caused by the tilt of the Earth's axis.

In summer we are tilted toward the sun, making the sun's light strike us more directly. In the winter, Earth is tilted away from the sun, making the light strike us at a shallow angle.

On Jan. 3, Earth was 147,100,000 kilometers or 91,400,000 miles from the sun. Compare that to 152,100,000 kilometers or 94,500,000 miles in July.

On Jan. 1, sunrise was at 7:32 a.m. and sunset is at 4:57 p.m., giving us daylight of 9 hours and 25 minutes. By Jan. 31, sunrise is at 7:20 a.m. and sunset is at 5:29 p.m., giving us daylight of 10 hours and 9 minutes.

The sun begins the month in the constellation Sagittarius the Archer and moves into Capricornus on Jan. 19.

The moon reached full on Jan. 3 and reaches last quarter on Jan. 11, new on Jan. 18, and first quarter on Jan. 25.

Brish Planetarium/Tristate Astronomers

The annual holiday program, "'Tis the Season," concludes Jan. 9.

"Images of the Infinite" about the Hubble Space Telescope and discoveries begins Jan. 16 and continues through Feb. 27.

All programs are held on Tuesdays at 7 p.m. when Washington County Public Schools are in session. If schools are closed or close early due to inclement weather, the planetarium programs are also canceled. Admission fees are $2 for children and students and $3 for adults. Senior citizens with the WCPS Gold Card are admitted free. Gold Card applications are available at all school offices.

The Tristate Astronomers are a group of adults interested in astronomy and space. Anyone interested in astronomy are invited to attend their monthly meeting held at the planetarium.

The next meeting is Jan. 17 at 7:30 p.m. A star and constellation scavenger hunt will be the topic of the meeting.

For more information about the Planetarium or Tristate Astronomers, visit www.tristateastronomers.org on the Web and navigate to "William Brish Planetarium." You may also e-mail the planetarium at martirod@wcboe.k12.md.us.

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