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Wednesday, December 28, 2016


The Sky This Week - Thursday December 29 to Thursday January 5

The New Moon is Thursday December 29. Perihelion is January 4. Venus is prominent in the evening sky in the star poor regions of Capricornius. Mars is just above Venus and extremely close to Neptune. The crescent Moon is close to Venus on the 2nd and Mars on the 3rd. Jupiter and the bright star Spica are close in the morning skies. Saturn is low in the morning skies on the 28th. Comet 45P is a telescope object in the early evening skies.

The New Moon is Thursday December 29. Earth is at perihelion, when it is closest to the Sun, on  January 4

Evening sky on Sunday January 1 looking west as seen from Adelaide at 21:38 ACDST (60 minutes after sunset). Venus and (now dim) Mars form a line with Comet 45P (visible in telesciopes) and Neptune (visible in binoculars and telescopes) with the thin crescent Moon nearby. Neptune is closest to Mars at this time. The inset is a simulation of the view with a 12 mm eyepiece with a Newtonian telescope.

Similar views will be seen throughout Australia at the equivalent local time. (click to embiggen).

Mercury is lost in the twilight.

Venus  is high in the dusk sky and intensely bright. It can be seen easily from somewhat before half an hour after sunset to two hours after sunset. It stays dazzlingly brilliant above the horizon in truly dark skies well into the evening. Venus has been mistaken for flares or landing aeroplanes it is so bright now.

Venus is in a very star poor field.On January 2 it is close to the thin Crescent Moon. Venus is a distinct "half Moon" shape in telescopes.

Evening sky on Monday January 2 looking west as seen from Adelaide at 21:38 ACDST (60 minutes after sunset). Venus is close to the thin crescent Moon. Similar views will be seen throughout Australia at the equivalent local time. (click to embiggen).

Mars is in the western evening skies in  Aquarius. Mars remains in a star poor area, but is coming closer to Neptune for a close approach on the 31st and 1 January. Mars is in the same binocular field as Neptune (which will look like a colourless dot) for most of the week. You will need good binoculars (at least 10x50's under dark skies to pick up Neptune.

However on the 31st and 1st Neptune and Mars are close enough to see together in telescopes. On the 1st Mercury and Mars 7 arc minutes apart, are close enough to be seen in high power eyepieces, which will show the disk of Mars and (just) the disk of Neptune. Worth a look.

Mars was at opposition on May 22,  and is still visibly dimming. While still brighter than any of the nearby stars, it is much faded and not immediately obvious, It is no longer a modest telescope object. Mars is visible most of the evening setting before midnight. In small telescopes Mars will be a visible, but tiny, gibbous disk, however you are unlikely to  see its markings.

Black and white binocular chart suitable for printing, showing a higher power view of the area around comet 45P from 22 December to 21 January. Use in conjunction with the sky chart above. The circle is the field of view of 10x50 binoculars. Click to embiggen and print.

Comet 45P is around magnitude 8, bright enough to be theoretically seen in binoculars, however, it is very low to the horizon at astronomical twilight, and there is a very narrow window for observing it. It will look like a fuzzy dot in binoculars and small telescopes. The comet is not far from theta Capricornii, and the only fuzzy object in this area.

Morning  sky on Wednesday January 4 looking east as seen from Adelaide at 4:59 ACDST (just an hour before sunrise).  Jupiter is now high above the horizon and is in dark skies well before dawn. It is close to the bright star Spica. Saturn is just peeking above the horizon at this time. Similar views will be seen elsewhere in Australia at the equivalent local time. (click to embiggen).

Jupiter rises even  higher into the morning skies this week. It is now well above the eastern horizon and is easy to see as the brightest object above the eastern horizon from around an hour and a half before sunrise. It is coming closer to the bright star Spica. It is now high enough to be a good telescopic target, and the dance of its Moons is visible even in binoculars..

 Saturn rises higher in the morning twilight this week. Saturn is low to the horizon, and you will need a level, unobstructed eastern horizon to see it. Although by the end of the week is is easier to see.

There are lots of interesting things in the sky to view with a telescope. If you don't have a telescope, now is a good time to visit one of your local astronomical societies open nights or the local planetariums.

Printable PDF maps of the Eastern sky at 10 pm AEST, Western sky at 10 pm AEST. For further details and more information on what's up in the sky, see Southern Skywatch.

Cloud cover predictions can be found at SkippySky.
Here is the near-real time satellite view of the clouds (day and night) http://satview.bom.gov.au/


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