Happy New Year from Balsam Mountain Preserve!
The weather over the past week has not be very conducive to star gazing but I thought it worth pointing out a couple of significant astronomical events to be on the look out for once the skies clear up again.
First be sure to check out comet Lovejoy. It has recently reached naked eye visibility (about magnitude 4.0) but try first to find it with binoculars. Its currently hanging out just below and to the right of the bright star Rigel which is the right ‘foot’ of Orion the Hunter. It should brighten over the next few weeks. Check out the finder chart here for the latest location throughout January.
Planet wise be looking for Jupiter shining bright in the south east just after sunset. It will rise earlier as the month progresses and brighten as it reaches opposition with the Earth on February 6th. Venus and Mercury are also visible just after sunset low in the west-southwest.
Interesting factoid – the Earth reaches perihelion on January the 4th which is the point in its orbit when it is closest the the Sun. This is counter intuitive since its winter but its just a smidgen (about 3%) closer to the Sun than normal and has no measurable impact on the seasons which are caused by the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
So when the weather cooperates, go out an enjoy the dark skies of Balsam Mountain Preserve.
Jim Stratigos – Resident Astronomer