Jupiter at opposition
Jupiter reaches opposition March 8, meaning the next week or two are the best time to see the planet at its largest diameter from our perspective. But, being the largest planet, it will remain quite large for several months, so if you have cloudy skies, there's still plenty of time to see it. Check out the video above for tips on observing our solar system's largest planet.
Dual shadow transit dates/times:
Hopefully I converted all of the EDT times correctly - send me a message if I got something wrong. Thanks!
Two more great open clusters in Auriga
Messier 36 is probably the least impressive of the triple Messier clusters in Auriga, but it's worth viewing. Learn how to find it from Beta Tauri (Alnath) with just a single 6th magnitude star to guide you there. Just outside the constellation's shape is M37; a narrow triangle near Theta Aurigae helps point the way there. Alternatively, red dot finder and Telrad users can easily locate these clusters with a bit of simple triangulation.
Auriga has a distinctive, if unremarkable shape. But it is punctuated by the bright star Capella, making the constellation easy to find and discern in the sky. Within the confines of the well-known shape are several open clusters. But they are just far enough away from bright stars that it takes a little bit of a star hop to reach them. This video shows how to find Messier 38 and NGC 1907 from the Cheshire Cat asterism in Auriga.
To top that off, Mercury isn't easy to see, even when it's best-placed. So the timing of when, where and what date to look is important. Check out the video above for all the details for spotting all 5 planets in the coming weeks.
Here's a step-by-step written guide to the planets - it includes a sheet you can print and take with you when you go to find these objects in the sky.
It seems like the Moon should occult bright stars all the time, but there's a lot of space between the stars, so it often misses. But on Jan 19 (evening U.S./Canada) / Jan 20 (western Europe) the Moon will occult - or cover - the first magnitude star Aldebaran. In the video above, Dave talks about features that can be seen on the Moon right around this time.
Here's that Jan 19/20 lunar graphic.
Also, Comet Catalina is moving it's way north, and will be above Polaris in a couple of weeks. Watch where the 6th magnitude fuzzball is going in the sky. Here's a chart to help you track its progress through the end of January.
The Hyades in Taurus is incredibly easy to find: Locate Aldebaran in Taurus, and the naked eye stars nearby are the Hyades! Or are they? There's more to that story - find out just how far the Hyades extends beyond that simple large "V" shape - and - learn where another nearby open cluster lurks that can be found from the "throat" of the Hyades.
Messier 42, the Great Orion Nebula, understandably gets observed a lot. It's big, it's bright, for many, it's even colorful! But within a degree of this fantastic object, there are a half a dozen other objects that, if they weren't so close to M42, would be great targets to observe on their own. They just get overshadowed by the large nebula's awesomeness.
But when you're done taking in the giant cloud of dust and gas, check out these other sights: NGC1981, M43, 42 & 45 Orionis, Iota Orionis, Struve 747 and Struve 745. They're well worth a tiny change in direction of your telescope and the minor adjustment of your eye's attention.
So you got a new telescope for Christmas, or perhaps some new astro-accessories. What to view first? Here's a few old friends to seasoned observers, but make perfect "Here's what to view first" for beginners. This video shows how to find them and how to get started observing.
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I talk about dark sky friendly lighting fixtures a lot - I mention them in most every video, in fact. But what are they? Find various types of dark sky friendly lighting fixtures here, or try these lighting manufacturers - and if you still have trouble locating them, contact me.
NEW AS OF JANUARY 2013: The U.S.-based home improvement store Lowes now carries dark sky friendly lighting with the IDA seal of approval - look for them in your store. Got a neighbor with a light shining in your bedroom or window somewhere in your home? Here's how to approach neighbors about poorly shielded lighting. You can also find the silver-crown light bulbs highlighted in previous "Dark Sky Facts" from these online retailers:
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The Ultimate Beginner's Guide to Telescopes and Amateur Astronomy
Eyes on the Sky reviews
How to view the Sun safely
Past Eyes on the Sky weekly astronomy videos
Dark skies organizations
International Dark Sky Association
Campaign for Dark Skies (U.K.)
Illinois Coalition for Responsible Outdoor Lighting
Artificial Light at Night Database
Dark Sky Friendly Approved Lighting Fixtures