Venus, Mercury make quite a pair

Wednesday, January 14, 2015

Are you tracking the Venus/Mercury pair each evening just after sunset? You should be.

Tonight, Wednesday, Jan. 14, bright Venus and speedy Mercury will be at their closest in the southwestern evening sky, look at about 30-minutes after local sunset. They are quite visible together in the same binocular field of view.

After this evening, Mercury will begin to pull away from Venus dropping down toward the horizon on its way to cross between Earth and the Sun in inferior conjunction on Jan. 30. It will return to the morning sky on or about Feb. 4.

We have planets galore in the evening and morning sky for the next several weeks so get that new telescope you received for Christmas limbered up and get ready to use it.

Above and left of the Venus/Mercury pair is another planetary pair, first magnitude Mars and above and further left is a dim outer ice-giant planet Neptune.

Neptune is one of those planets that needs a helper to find, and right now, Mars is a super-helper. They both are in the same binocular field of view and will be together until Saturday, Jan. 24.

The moon will also be putting in it's hand as a location helper. On the evening of Jan. 21, a skinny crescent moon joins Venus and Mercury, then the next night joins the Mars and Neptune pair.

Not being one to be a slacker, the moon continues on until it points out the location of another of the outer ice-giant planets, Uranus. Look in the early evening of Saturday, Jan. 24 and the evening of Sunday, Jan. 25, when the moon will bracket the dim planet.

On the 24th, the planet will be almost in the same field of binocular view as the moon. It will be the small dot above and left at about the 10:00 position. On the evening of the 25th the moon will be on the other side of Uranus and a little bit farther away than the previous evening.

Those of you who are early risers, don't feel left out. The moon will be playing tag with the ringed-planet Saturn in the early morning hours of Friday, Jan. 16.

They will be very close together -- a little less than two degrees apart. Don't get two of Saturn's moons, which will also be visible in the viewing field, confused with the planet.

Look in the southeastern sky about an hour before local sunrise. They will be just above the head of Scorpius, the Scorpion.

This is a good time to keep track of the motions of the planets.

It is quite simple. Just take a sketching tablet, or some paper on a clipboard out observing with you. Note the date and time you are viewing, and the direction you are looking.

Sketch in some of the major, brighter, stars and objects. This doesn't need to be Rembrandt, just a quick sketch including the major points.

Then go out and do it again the next night, and the next and the next.

You can make a new sketch for each night, or you can make a new sketch on the old one. But, if you do, be sure to date the new locations of the objects you are viewing. The sketches will make a good record of your efforts.

SKYWATCH: Third-quarter moon yesterday, Jan. 13. Lots of planets moving around for viewing.

NEXT WEEK: More exciting, and busy January and more astronomical blathering.

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