StarWatch for the greater Lehigh Valley



Print Large Sky Charts For 9 p.m. EST:   NORTH | EAST | SOUTH | WEST | ZENITH

[Moon Phases]
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Status Current Moon Phase

[Moon, Mercury, and Jupiter Conjunction photo]
East Coast twilights don’t get much better than this, except when they are graced with the added beauty of elusive Mercury (lowest), Jupiter, and the earthshine-drenched crescent moon. A 13 second equatorially driven photo was taken with a Canon 40D camera coupled to a 70-200mm, Canon zoom lens (EFL 112mm) and imaged at F/4.0, ASA 400. The horizon of another 15 second photo, where the drive was shut down, was then merged with the original image to produce the finished composition. A Borg-Hutech light suppression filter was used to dampen any unwanted skylight. Image by Gary A. Becker on December 29 near Coopersburg, PA...

[Mercury, and Jupiter]
Look Ma, we've switched places... Jupiter is now below Mercury in this 13 second equatorially driven photo taken on New Year's Day. Note Ganymede and Callisto, two of Jupiter's four Galilean satellites, which appear as a faint star just above and to the left of Jupiter. The photo was imaged with a Canon 40D camera coupled to a 70-200mm, Canon zoom lens (EFL 216mm) and imaged at F/4.0, ASA 400. The horizon of another 13 second photo, where the drive was shut down, was then merged with the original image to produce the finished product. A Borg-Hutech light suppression filter was used to dampen any unwanted skylight. Image by Gary A. Becker near Coopersburg, PA...

646    JANUARY 4, 2009:   Events for January 2009
There will be plenty of sky action during 2009 which has been designated as the International Year of Astronomy by the International Astronomical Union and the United Nations. This celebration is in honor of Galileo’s first telescopic observations of the heavens late in 1609 and the milestone publication of his findings in Sidereus Nuncius, The Sidereal (Starry) Messenger, in March of 1610. However, this week and for the next two months, Venus will continue to dominate the SW sky after sundown, but the Messenger God, Mercury, will also be part of the scene. Try to catch it about one fist held at arm’s length (thumb up) above an unobscured SW horizon 30-45 minutes after sundown. Although Mercury’s altitude remains consistent throughout the week, it shines at only half of its intensity by Saturday, making earlier sightings more likely to be successful. The moon is full on January 10, rising at sundown, and posing next to Saturn on Wednesday, the 14th. Look for the pair low in the east after 10:30 p.m. or mid-sky in the SW by dawn on Thursday. One week later on January 22, Venus, the third brightest heavenly object after the sun and the moon, and Uranus are only one degree apart. Using binoculars and a star map (See “this week’s StarWatch at the URL below), Uranus will be slightly brighter than the other stars which are near to Venus about an hour after sundown. Several days later, a thin, waxing crescent moon enters the scene and is about six degrees below and to the right of Venus on the 29th and the same distance above and to Venus’s left on the 30th of the month. The next time around on February 27, a very thin waxing crescent moon passes the Goddess of Love by a scant two degrees in the west after sundown, one-third degree closer than on December 1, 2008 when dazzling Jupiter was also part of the scene.

[Jupiter-Uranus Conjunction]
To identify Uranus on January 22 you'll need binoculars. Find Venus in the SW about one hour after sundown and use the map which represents a standard binocular field of view to locate Uranus, which will be slightly brighter than the stars near to Venus. Remember that the more positive the number next to the star, the FAINTER the star will be. If you cannot locate Venus at magnitude -4.5, you're in trouble. Map created by Gary A. Becker using The Sky software...

647    JANUARY 11, 2009:   Taurus Leads the Winter Pack
As mid-January approaches, along with the coldest weeks of year, the winter constellations of Taurus, Orion, and Canis Major begin to take center stage in the south during the evening hours around 9 p.m. Their arrival to celebrity status seems to be glacially slow, outpaced by the stars of autumn that seem to get an extra encore of visibility because of the deepening nights that winter brings. Then when their long anticipated rise to glory has finally happened, they are rapidly whisked away from the scene during the steadily shrinking nights of spring. There seems to be no fairness given to some of the finest patterns of the night. But now it is their time, and Taurus the Bull, with its distinctive V-shaped head leads the pack. Run your eye upward from left to right following the three diamond belt stars of Orion to the bright luminary Aldebaran, the eye of the bull. Orangey Aldebaran is the 13th brightest star of the night, a giant of advanced age that if put into the middle of our solar system would extend halfway to Mercury’s orbit. Use binoculars to enhance the orangey glow of Aldebaran and the fainter stars of the “V” which compose Taurus’s head. Further up and to the right is the hazy sparkle of the Pleiades perched upon the Bull’s shoulder, a new convocation of luminaries fresh from the evolutionary forge. Binoculars will reveal dozen of dimmer stars and the bluish color of the brighter hot stars that are characteristic of a young cluster. The “V” of the Bull’s head minus Aldebaran is also a star cluster; however its members have been around for about 625 million years, about six times longer than the Pleiades. To complete Taurus, don’t forget his horns which extend outward to a distance of four times beyond the sides of the “V,” but at a narrower angle. See the online map at the URL below.

[Find Taurus the Bull]
Find Taurus the Bull by locating the three belt stars of Orion the Hunter and following them upward and to the right until you come to Taurus. Map created by Gary A. Becker using The Sky software...

648    JANUARY 18, 2009:   Orion, “Main Man” of Winter: Part One
If Taurus the Bull is the lead constellation of the Winter Group, then Orion the Hunter must be its “main man.” I never tire of seeing his three belt stars, blue-white pearls glimmering in an inky sky. They are one of the most familiar groupings in the heavens. Orion is all yours this week in the south, mid-sky, about 9:30 p.m. Above and to the left of Orion’s belt is the red supergiant star, and ready-to-supernova, Betelgeuse. Left is the blue-white giant, Bellatrix. Use binoculars to aid in discriminating the colors of these beautiful luminaries and to help reveal fainter stars, such as the triad that forms the small head of the hunter above his shoulders. Keep those binoculars handy and glide south to the three belt stars which make Orion so distinctive. They are from upper right to lower left, Mintaka, Alnilam, and Alnitak, and they are all blue supergiant stars destined to supernova in the next several million years. Orion’s handsome pearls will fit comfortably into a binocular field. Drift farther south and you’ll come to Orion’s sword, a vertical grouping of three star clusters with its center, the Great Nebula of Orion, a dusty patch of hydrogen and helium sculpted by magnetic fields and stellar winds, where some of the youngest stars in the galaxy reside. Below and to the right of Orion’s sword lies the brilliant blue supergiant, Rigel, and to its left, much fainter Saiph, both fated to explode several million years into the future. There is a reason for the repetition concerning Orion’s bright blue stars and their eventual fate. Most of these luminaries are related to each other and the Orion Nebula, the topic of next week’s StarWatch article. For now, however, savor Orion’s rarity among the star patterns of winter and visit him on the next clear moonless night. An online map is available at the posted URL.

[Find Orion the Hunter]
Find Orion the Hunter around 9:15 p.m., due south by locating the three belt stars that represent pearls girdling his waist. Map created by Gary A. Becker using The Sky software...

[Venus and Uranus meet]
The Odd Couple Meet:   The goddess of love, Venus, outshines Uranus by over 14,300 times in this January 22 image taken at 6:29 p.m. EST from Coopersburg, PA. Uranus and Venus were separated by only one degree 13 minutes, about two lunar diameters. An equatorially mounted Canon 40D was mated with a 70-200mm zoom lens and imaged for 60 seconds at an EFL of 320mm, F/4.5, ASA 400. A Borg-Hutech light suppression filter was used. Photo by Gary A. Becker...

649    JANUARY 25, 2009:   Orion, “Main Man” of Winter: Part Two
Orion the Hunter is south at 9:00 p.m. this week. You’ll find the outline of Orion’s seven bright stars mid-sky and evident by the three blue-white luminaries that girdle his waist. An online map is posted. Even a cursory look at the stars representing Orion’s two shoulders, the three pearls in his belt, a foot, and a knee might pose a question. If these stars are all the same blue color (except for red Betelgeuse) and have extremely short lives of fewer than 10 million years, then why are we seeing them at the same time in such a small area of the sky? The answer may not be immediately obvious because 10 million years for us seems like an eternity, but for a star it is a mere heartbeat. Keep in mind that the average star undergoes thermonuclear fusion for tens of billions to trillions of years. Our present snapshot of the galaxy showing the seven Roman candles of Orion in such close proximity to each other indicates that they are related. The most massive and luminous stars within galaxies appear in groupings called OB associations. These stars create bubbles of ionized (glowing) hydrogen from escaping gases which are propelled by the vast amounts of energy which they produce. Most O and B stars will supernova, adding to the accelerations of these bubbles of gas. In turn, these bubbles will collect and compress more hydrogen to form new stars, the first to form being the hottest and most massive OB stars. The process continues, rippling through large clouds of hydrogen like the ones which are found in the Orion region. The Orion Nebula located at the center of his sword is the most recent bubble, while the belt stars are part of an older bubble. Both Betelgeuse (red, left shoulder) and Rigel (blue, right foot star) may be runaway OB stars connected with the Orion Nebula. The pattern of Orion is truly the “main man” of winter or for that matter for all the seasons.

[January Star Map]

[January Moon Phase Calendar]