Planets parade from dusk to dawn and the waxing Moon climbs high.
Venus is our “evening star” and a prominent sight shortly after sunset. Gleaming at magnitude –3.9, the planet is the first point of light you see as the sky begins to darken. Venus is slowly catching up to Mars, which shines at a comparatively dim magnitude 1.2. The two worlds are about 10 degrees apart. Meanwhile, dominating the east is mighty Jupiter. It rises at about 6 p.m., local standard time, and reaches the meridian a little after 1 a.m. Last up is Saturn, which clears the southeastern horizon just after 3 a.m. The ringed planet is performing a slow dance with 2.6-magnitude Beta (β) Scorpii and this week approaches within one degree of the star. They will be at their closest on January 29.
Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is making its way past Triangulum and toward Andromeda. It remains well positioned for evening viewing, but Moonlight will interfere all week. Click here for more about observing the comet.
The Moon reaches first-quarter phase at 11:48 p.m., EST, tonight.
This evening the gibbous Moon will lie roughly 3½ degrees (as seen from Ontario) from Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus. The pair will fit in the field of view of ordinary binoculars, which will pull in some additional stars to make the scene even more appealing. For observers on the West Coast, the lunar disc will have moved one degree farther from Aldebaran by the time darkness falls.
The January 30 – February 1 weekend finds the gibbous Moon riding high in the sky and inviting telescopic inspection. Indeed, on Friday evening, the Moon lies on the most northerly part of the ecliptic, which puts it in prime viewing position. Take some time this weekend to inspect one of the less well known impact basins, Humorum. On Friday evening in particular you’ll be able to see every wrinkle and bulge on Mare Humorum as the terminator creeps across its 389-kilometre-wide surface. No doubt, your eye will be drawn to Gassendi, the striking crater parked on the mare’s northern shore. This is a wonderful feature in its own right — one that you can spend hours productively exploring. Measuring 110-km-across, the crater’s floor is a wonderland of fascinating detail, including a triple central-peak complex and a network of fine rilles. Take note of the crater’s partially missing southern wall, which was apparently submerged when lavas filled the Humorum basin. Also interesting is the mostly flooded crater Doppelmayer, and nearby flat-floored Mersenius.
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