For the first time in more than a decade, Mercury, Mars, Venus, Saturn, and Jupiter — the five planets bright enough to be seen with an unaided eye — will all be visible at once in the sky.
You’ll have to wake up early to catch it. Starting January 20, it will be possible to see all five planets in a row, about 45 minutes before sunrise, Sky and Telescope reports. The planets should be visible in this arrangement until February 20.
(Sky and Telescope notes it might get harder to see Mercury after the first week of February, because of its low position near the horizon).
The latest sunrise of the year occurs on January 5th, when Old Sol crests the horizon at 7:27 am EST here in Washington, DC. On that same evening sunset occurs at 5:00 pm, 14 minutes later than its earliest sunset back on December 7th. The total length of daylight on New Year’s Day will be 9 hours 30 minutes, four minutes longer than it was on the day of the solstice, and the days will steadily increase in length until the summer solstice, which will fall on June 20.
January 2nd marks the date of Earth’s perihelion, its closest distance to the Sun. On this date we’ll be a mere 147 million kilometers (91.4 million miles) from the fierce surface of the “day star”.
The bright planets are now confined to the morning sky where you’ll find Venus and Jupiter dominating the view before sunrise. The two planets had a spectacular conjunction on the 26th, and while Venus draws away from the giant planet the pair will remain a beautiful sight to the naked eye. If you look carefully you’ll see the much fainter ruddy glow of Mars just below the brighter pair. Over the course of the week Venus will close in on the red planet, and early risers on the 3rd will see them less than a degree apart. This sight will be worth getting up early for; just remember that it will be best seen at around 5:00 am Standard Time!
Since it occurs about mid-way between the autumnal equinox and the winter solstice, Halloween is known as a “cross-quarter day” that was celebrated widely in Europe before the influence of Christianity took hold. This early observance was known as Samhain and was celebrated as a harvest festival marking the boundary between the days of light and the nights of winter’s darkness. It was also thought to be a time when the boundary between the worlds of the living and the dead drew closest, so a large part of the celebration included honoring ancestors and others who had passed into the underworld. When Christianity swept northern Europe the festival was incorporated into the feats of All Saints’ Day, which traditionally fell on November 1st. Carving a Jack O’ Lantern is a part of the tradition, imitating illuminated gourds and turnips lit to welcome the spirits of the dead to enter a home and partake of food and drink.
Technically full after midnight, watch for it 10/26 and 10/28, too.
The Moon waxes in the evening sky this week, wending her way through the autumnal constellations as she makes her way eastward along the ecliptic. Full Moon occurs on the 27th at 8:05 an Eastern Daylight Time. October’s Full Moon is popularly called the Hunter’s Moon, and it shares almost the same horizon geometry as September’s Harvest Moon. In far northern latitudes this causes successive moonrises to occur at about the same time on the nights around the full phase, and this “extra” light gave hunters a little more time to pursue game across the stubble of the harvested fields. Some Native Americans referred to it as the Leaf-falling Moon or the Nut Moon. Because the autumn sky is filled with mostly dim, ill-defined constellation patterns Luna’s journey this week is a lonely one; there are no bright objects along her path to meet with.
The main planetary action occurs in the pre-dawn sky with dazzling Venus, bright Jupiter, and a rather subdued ruddy Mars interacting over the next few weeks. You’ll have no trouble watching Venus close in on Jupiter this week. The two planets will be closest together on the mornings of the 25th and 26th when they will be separated by just over one degree. After that Venus will set her sights on Mars, passing the red planet on November 3rd. It’s well worth rising before the Sun to watch this celestial dance through the end of October while we’re still on Daylight Time. After November 1st everything will occur an hour earlier as we return to Standard Time!
I’ll be 78 for the next one.
a rare celestial event: a supermoon coinciding with a total lunar eclipse.
Both phenomena create intriguing displays high in the sky, but the last time the two happened together was more than 30 years ago.
“That’s rare because it’s something an entire generation may not have seen,” Noah Petro, deputy project scientist for the Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center told NASA. The last time the two stellar events combined was in 1982, and NASA experts predict the next one won’t occur until 2033.
Full Moon occurs on the 29th at 2:35 pm Eastern Daylight Time. August’s Full Moon is popularly known as the Corn Moon, Grain Moon, or Sturgeon Moon. If you like corn-on-the-cob or caviar, this Moon’s for you! – from http://www.usno.navy.mil/USNO/tours-events/sky-this-week/the-sky-this-week-2015-august-25-september-1
I’m a little late with this, between two moons.
Full Moon occurs on July 1st at 10:20 pm Eastern Daylight Time. This is the first of two Full Moons for the month; the next falls on the 31st. This Full Moon is popularly known as the Hay Moon, Buck Moon, or Thunder Moon. The latter seems particularly appropriate this year!
The first link is to a video of all of the phases of the moon in 2015. The second is the first tool I’ve seen that actually displays the moon phase for a given date and time. Pretty cool.
Moon Phases 2015, Northern Hemisphere
This visualization shows the Moon’s phase and libration at hourly intervals throughout 2015, as viewed from the northern hemisphere. Each frame represents one hour.
The animation archived on this page shows the geocentric phase, libration, position angle of the axis, and apparent diameter of the Moon throughout the year 2015, at hourly intervals.
The Winter Solstice occurs on the 21st at 6:03 pm EDT, marking the beginning of the astronomical season of winter. At this time the Sun will reach its most southerly point along the ecliptic at a point above the Tropic of Capricorn some 5000 kilometers (3000 miles) south of the Hawai’ian Islands. For those of us in the Northern Hemisphere this will also correspond to the shortest length of daylight we’ll experience for the year. Here in Washington we’ll have just 9 hours 26 minutes between sunrise and sunset. Of course, for our friends in the Southern Hemisphere, this marks the beginning of summer, and they see their shortest nights.
The December solstice has been an important yearly event that has been observed and commemorated by people since very ancient times. In particular it was widely observed by the Neolithic people of Europe, and many of the ancient monuments that dot the landscapes of the British Isles and northern France were used to observe the passing of this special day. Our modern holidays have been adapted from many of these ancient observances, many with a common theme of light to chase away the long winter darkness. For ancient people this was a welcome turning point in the year since it portended the gradual return of the warming Sun and the (eventual) end of winter.
Watch the moon rise at sunset on 12/5-7.
The Moon passes through the bright stars of the Great Winter Circle this week, a fitting backdrop for the most northerly Full Moon of the year, which occurs on 6th at 7:27 am Eastern Standard Time. December’s Full Moon is popularly known as the Moon Before Yule, Cold Moon, or Long Night Moon. The latter is particularly appropriate as we approach the year’s longest nights around the time of the Winter Solstice. Watch Luna glide just a degree north of the bright star Aldebaran on the night of December 5th. On the following night her bright crisp disc hovers above the figure of Orion, the Hunter.
For most folks living in the mainland United States this week begins the series of phenomena associated with the winter solstice. For the next 10 days we will experience the earliest sunsets of the year. Here in Washington they occur at 4:46 pm EST. By the 12th the sunset time slowly begins to creep a bit later; however, the time of latest sunrise is still advancing. That event falls on the several days before and after January 4th. Thus, when we measure the total length of daylight/night, we find that the year’s shortest day indeed does fall on the solstice on December 21st. This “lag” in the times of sunrise and sunset is a result of our method of keeping time by using a standard second and by the slightly elliptical orbit of the Earth around the Sun. If we still used sundials for keeping time the effect wouldn’t exist.
Orionid meteors fly out of a radiant near the shoulder of Orion, the Hunter. In this sky map, the radiant is denoted by a red dot. Although the meteors emerge from a single point, they can appear anywhere in the sky. Image credit: Dr. Tony Phillips [Larger image]
“We expect to see about 20 meteors per hour when the shower peaks on Tuesday morning, Oct 21st,” says Bill Cooke, the head of NASA’s Meteoroid Environment Office. “With no Moon to spoil the show, observing conditions should be ideal.”
Because these meteors streak out of the constellation Orion, astronomers call them “Orionids.”
“The Orionid meteor shower is not the strongest, but it is one of the most beautiful showers of the year,” notes Cooke.
The reason is its setting: The shower is framed by some of the brightest stars in the heavens. Constellations such as Taurus, Gemini and Orion provide a glittering backdrop for the display. The brightest star of all, Sirius, is located just below Orion’s left foot, a good place to point your camera while you’re waiting for meteors.
An Orionid meteor streaks over the city lights of Shanghai in 2009. Credit: Jefferson Teng
To see the show, Cooke suggests going outside one to two hours before sunrise when the sky is dark and the constellation Orion is high overhead. Lie down on a blanket with a broad view of the heavens. Although Orionids emerge from a small area near the shoulder of Orion, they will spray across the entire sky.