If you would like a printed sample, send a long, self-addressed stamped
Each month, the Department of Physics and Astronomy at Michigan
State University also makes Skywatcher's Diary available over the
Internet. It can be accessed via a World-Wide Web browser such as
Netscape or Mosaic, directly at URL:
- An hour before sunup on Thursday, face south to find Spica 7
degrees to Moon's lower left. The Moon is just under half full. Mars
is in SSW 17 deg to Moon's upper right.
- In the predawn hours of Friday, the Quadrantid meteors may reach a
strong peak. An hour before sunup, face south for Spica 7 degrees
to Moon's right. Look very low in SE for bright Venus with
Antares, heart of the Scorpion, 13 deg to its upper right.
- From now until late March, Comet Hale-Bopp is a morning object.
About 1-1/2 hours before sunrise, locate bright Vega in ENE.
Comet H-B is very low in E, 33 degrees lower right of Vega, 20
degrees lower left of the 2nd-mag star Alpha in Ophiuchus, and 9
degrees lower right of the 3rd-mag star Zeta in Aquila. Use
binoculars. From one morning to the next, Comet Hale-Bopp now
shifts its position against the stars by half a degree per day. Getting
a little higher each morning, and possibly brightening through 3rd
mag this month, Comet H-B may soon become a naked eye object
for billions of viewers in Earth's northern hemisphere.
- An hour before sunrise on Sunday, look SE for a beautiful crescent
Moon with Antares twinking 15 degrees lower left. Bright Venus is
15 degrees lower left of Antares.
- On Monday an hour before sunrise, the crescent Moon is in SE.
Look for Antares, "rival of Mars," 8 degrees to Moon's lower right,
and bright Venus 15 deg to Moon's lower left. In three months, on
April 2, Venus will be almost directly behind the Sun.
- Last easy chance to view the old Moon! On Tuesday an hour before
sunrise, look very low in ESE to SE for the thin crescent with
Venus just 4 degrees to its lower right.
- Forty to 30 minutes before sunrise on Wednesday, try for the very
old Moon rising in ESE. First locate Venus, then, using binoculars,
look for faint 1.5-mag Mercury 7 degrees to its lower left. From the
East Coast, the hairline-thin crescent is 5 degrees lower left of
Mercury and 16 to 17 hours before New. From the West Coast, the
more difficult Moon is 7 degrees lower left of Mercury and only 13
to 14 hours before New. Bagging the old Moon is easiest in
Southeast U.S., most difficult in the Northwest. When you last spot
the Moon, note the time and calculate the time interval remaining
until New. The New Moon (its conjunction with Sun) occurs today
at 11:26 p.m. EST (8:26 p.m. PST).
Will anyone see the "opposing crescents", of Wednesday morning
and Thursday evening? Note the times of your last sighting of the
morning crescent and first sighting of the evening crescent,
instruments used, and send a report to: Moonwatch Jan. '97, c/o
Abrams Planetarium, Michigan State University, East Lansing, MI
To prime yourself for these delicate Moons, see the following
articles in Sky & Telescope: "Sighting the Opposing Crescents" in
May 1995, page 105; and
"In Quest of the Youngest Moon" in December 1996, page 104.
- On Thursday about 45 minutes before sunup, locate Venus very low
in SE sky. Mercury (mag +1.2) is visible in the same 7-power
binocular field, 5.5 degrees to Venus' lower left. Mercury is getting
higher and brighter each morning, and will pass 4 degrees left of
Venus on Jan. 10, and within 3 degrees upper left of Venus on Jan.
Improve your chances of spotting the Ramadan Moon of Jan 9
- Within half an hour after sunset, the very young Moon is very low
in WSW, and likely to be seen with unaided eye. Its age (time
elapsed since New) is less than 18 hours from the Northeast U.S.,
about 19 hours from Florida, and 21 hours from the West Coast.
For the 48 states, this is an easier sighting than the very old Moon of
This month's young Moon is of special significance to a quarter of
the world's population. The first glimpse of the slender crescent
marks the beginning of the Islamic holy fasting month of Ramadan.
Try these two websites for more info on the Ramadan moon:
- Tonight's nearly 2-day-old crescent is very easy to see, low in SW
to WSW at dusk. The Moon sets in a dark sky, over two hours after
sunset. Very low in SE 45 minutes before sunrise Saturday through
Monday, Mercury is 3 degrees upper left of Venus.
Within the next few months, a lunar eclipse, Comet Hale-Bopp, and
Mars are all slated to put on a fine display in the evening sky.
Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus come along later in the year. Beginning
tonight, our new show, Celestial Preview 1997, gives tips on how
to view these and other phenomena, using Abrams Planetarium's
Digistar projector. You'll emerge with an increased enjoyment and
appreciation of the ever-changing sky scene. Celestial Preview 1997
is presented two weekends only, January 10-12 and Jan. 17-19, on
Fridays and Saturdays at 8 p.m., and Sundays at 4 p.m.
- On Sunday, very low in SE 45 minutes before sunup, Mercury
passes 2.7 degrees upper left of Venus. This is their closest visible
pairing with each other until August 1998.
- Note the large, nearly isosceles triangle formed by Arcturus, Mars, and
Spica these mornings. Look for it low in eastern sky 6 hours before
sunrise, and high in southern sky one to two hours before sunup. The
Big Dipper's curved handle leads directly to Arcturus at the northern
apex of the triangle. For the next several weeks, the triangle changles
little in shape, with Arcturus about 33 degrees from both Spica and
Mars. But watch Mars increase in brilliance, outshining zero-magnitude
Arcturus by month's end.
- Locate the waxing crescent Moon well up in SSW at dusk. The first-
magnitude "star" a few degrees left of the Moon is Saturn. A telescope
reveals the rings, still tipped less than 4 degrees from edgewise.
Very low in Tuesday's SE morning sky, three-quarters of an hour
before sunup, Mercury stands within 3-1/2 degrees above Venus.
- At dusk the fat crescent Moon is in SSW with Saturn 11 degrees to
Today the location of Comet Hale-Bopp in space is higher above the
Earth's orbital plane than any any time between its last visit to the inner
solar system some 4200 years ago and its next visit some 2400 years
from now. Today the comet's distance north of the ecliptic plane is 1.20
astronomical units, or nearly 112 million miles. (The astronomical unit,
defined as the mean distance from Sun to Earth, is the standard unit
used to measure distances within the solar system. One a.u. is
approximately 92.956 million miles.) Of its vast orbit, Comet Hale-
Bopp spends only a little over over 14 months --from late February
1996 to early May 1997 -- above the plane of Earth's orbit, which will
give Earth's northern hemisphere residents the best view of Hale-
Bopp's current visit to the inner solar system. Stay tuned!
One-and-a-half hours before sunup on Wednesday and Thursday,
Comet Hale-Bopp is due east, about 12 degrees up. Start with bright
Vega well up in ENE. The comet is about 30 degrees lower right of
Vega and 5 degrees lower right of a 3rd-mag star, Zeta in Aquila. Comet
and Zeta fit into a single field of view of 7-power binoculars. Look for a
faint tail extending to the upper left. Seen just last week at a brightness
of 3rd-magnitude, Comet Hale-Bopp is on track to put on a good
morning display in February and March, and an even better evening
show in late March and early April.
Starting an hour before sunrise, watch the horizon between ESE and SE
for Venus rising 4 degrees lower left of Mercury. At the same time
relative to sunrise on each successive morning, Mercury will be seen
about the same height above the horizon for another week, while Venus
gets lower daily. On what date will you last see Venus before it passes
the far side of the Sun in early April?
- This afternoon and early evening, the Moon is near First Quarter phase,
half full and 90 degrees or one-quarter circle east of the Sun. If you face
the setting Sun this evening, the Moon will appear over your left
shoulder. Notice the Moon's right half (the side toward the Sun) is
illuminated. These evenings with Moon near half full are ideal for
viewing the Moon with binoculars and small telescopes to study lunar
- One and a half hours before sunrise in coming weeks, these bright stars
of the Summer Triangle will be helpful for locating Comet Hale-Bopp:
Bright Vega, well up in ENE; Altair, low in E, 34 degrees to Vega's
lower right; and Deneb in NE, 24 degrees to Vega's lower left. For the
next few mornings, Comet Hale-Bopp is about 13 degrees up in E, 10
degrees upper right of Altair and 30 degrees lower right of Vega. As a
check, H-B is about 4 degrees lower right of a 3rd-magnitude star, Zeta
in Aquila, the Eagle. The comet is currently about 3rd magnitude and
changing its position against background stars by 0.6 degrees per day.
Look for three planets about an hour before sunrise: Mars well up in
SW, 34 degrees lower right of Arcturus which is even higher in the
south. Can you detect that Arcturus twinkles but Mars shines with a
steady light? Compare color and brightness of Arcturus and Mars in
coming weeks. Mercury is very low in ESE to SE, with Venus just
rising 5 degrees to its lower left.
- At nightfall, about 1-1/2 hours after sunset, the waxing gibbous Moon
is high in SE and nearly 3/4 full. The Pleiades star cluster is 10 degrees
to Moon's upper left, and first-magnitude Aldebaran 15 degrees to
lower left. With the faint stars of the Hyades nearby, Aldebaran
completes a V-shaped pattern representing the head of Taurus the Bull.
The entire "V" easily fits within the field of 7-power binoculars. Look
again on Saturday night.
Comet Hale-Bopp is now brightening in the morning sky. Within the
next few months, the comet, Mars, and a lunar eclipse are all slated to
put on a fine display in the evening sky. Jupiter, Saturn, and Venus
come along later in the year. Michigan State University's Abrams
Planetarium presents Celestial Preview 1997, giving tips on how to
view these and other phenomena. The show concludes this weekend,
January 17-19, on Friday and Saturday at 8 p.m., and Sunday at 4 p.m.
- Starting at dusk, note the Moon's motion with respect to Aldebaran at
least once per hour. Tonight, the mountainous S edge of Moon grazes
Aldebaran as seen along a narrow track passing N of Vancouver by 10
p.m. PST, then western provinces of Canada just N of the U.S. border,
then into ND, northern MN, northern MI, Ontario, northeast NY,
southern VT, into MA and passing near Boston and Cape Cod just
before 2 a.m. EST Sunday. For a map of this track and more
information about similar events in 1997, see January issue of Sky &
Telescope magazine, page 90. From N of this "grazeline," Moon
occults (covers) star; seen from S of line, Moon misses star. From
lower Michigan, the Moon's southern edge narrowly misses the star
within a few minutes after 1:40 a.m. EST. As seen with unaided eye,
the star may be lost in the Moon's glare, but binoculars will show it.
By comet viewing time Sunday morning (about 1-1/2 hours before
sunrise), for the first time in over 4000 years, Comet Hale-Bopp's
distance from Sun is smaller than the average solar distance of Mars,
1.52 a.u. or 142 million miles. Look for the comet low in east, 9
degrees upper right of the first-magnitude star Altair and 4 degrees
lower right of the 3rd-magnitude star Zeta in Aquila. Comet H-B will
continue falling in toward the Sun until perihelion on the evening of
March 31, when it will close to only 0.914 a.u. or within 85 million
miles of the Sun. The comet is bound to become more active as it closes
in on the Sun, and to brighten! Stay tuned!
- At nightfall the Moon is high in ESE. Three reddish stars are not far
from the Moon tonight: Aldebaran, eye of Taurus, 10 degrees to
Moon's upper right; Betelgeuse, shoulder of Orion, 13 degrees below;
and Pollux, one of the Gemini twins, 35 degrees to Moon's lower left.
- At nightfall (1-1/2 hours after sunset), the Moon is well up in eastern
sky. Betelgeuse and Rigel, Orion's two brightest stars, are 11 degrees
and 30 degrees to Moon's lower right. Compare their contrasting
colors. The Hunter's striking 3-star belt is about midway between them.
Follow the belt downward to Sirius, the brightest nighttime star.
Procyon, low in E, completes the nearly equilateral Winter Triangle with
Sirius and Betelgeuse.
Tuesday morning is the last chance to see Comet Hale-Bopp without
bright moonlight, until Feb. 1 when the Moon will wane to less than
half full. On Tuesday 90 minutes before sunrise, look for the comet 15
degrees up, due east, and 8 degrees upper right of the first-magnitude
star Altair and 4 degrees below a 3rd-magnitude star, Zeta in Aquila.
On Tuesday morning, Comet Hale-Bopp will be 205 million miles from
Earth, 139 million miles from Sun. These distances will close to 122
million miles from Earth on March 22, and 85 million miles from Sun
on March 31, respectively. For the next few months, the Abrams
Planetarium Sky Calendar will feature dayboxes and evening star charts
to help you enjoy following the progress of the comet. A subscription
may be ordered for $7.50 per year, from Abrams Planetarium, Michigan
State University, East Lansing, MI 48824. The February through April
issues are now available.
- An hour after sunset, the Moon is in the east with Procyon 15 degrees
below. About the same distance to Moon's left are the Gemini twins:
Pollux, with Castor 4-1/2 degrees to its upper left.
- With the Moon not quite Full, this is the last chance in this lunar cycle to
see the Moon and setting Sun simultaneously. Watch the ENE horizon
about half an hour before sunset for the rising Moon. About an hour
after sunset, the Moon is still north of east, with bright Procyon 11
degrees to its lower right, Pollux 12 degrees to Moon's upper left, and
Castor 4-1/2 degrees to Pollux's upper left. In the ESE, 26 degrees to
right of Procyon (and a few degrees lower for all except southernmost
U.S.) is Sirius, the Dog Star. As a check, extend Orion's belt 22
degrees downward to locate this brightest of nighttime stars.
- The Moon, now just past Full, rises in ENE 20 to 30 minutes after
sunset for most of the contiguous 48 United States. The Full Moon of
January is called the Moon after Yule, according to astronomy author
Guy Ottewell. For the rest of January, the waning gibbous Moon
brightens the morning sky, affecting comet viewing somewhat, but by
Feb. 1 the Moon will be less than half full.
An hour before sunrise on Friday, Mercury appears farthest from the
Sun this time around, 25 degrees. Look very low, between ESE and
SE. Wait about 15 minutes, then watch for the rising of Venus, 8
degrees to Mercury's lower left. Venus is now in the background, on
the far side of its orbit, farther from us than Mercury is.
- The Moon, just past Full, rises about 15 degrees N of due east shortly
before the end of evening twilight and brightens the sky for the rest of
the night. By three hours after sunset, the Moon is high enough in the
east to allow you to see Regulus, heart of Leo, 9 degrees to its lower
left. By 1-1/2 hours before sunup on Saturday, Moon is in west with
Regulus 6 degrees above. Bright, steady orange Mars is in SW 40
degrees to Moon's upper left. Spica is in SSW, 19 degrees to Mars'
lower left. High in south 33 degrees from both Mars and Spica, and
marking the pinnacle of an isoceles triangle it forms with them, is bright
Can you see Comet Hale-Bopp in the moonlight? Look for the first-
magnitude star Altair nearly due east, low above horizon. H-B is 7
degrees above Altair and slightly right, or almost directly above Altair
from southern U.S.
Tonight From Stardust to Life: A Cosmic Journey returns to Abrams
Planetarium. For show times and ticket prices, call (517) 355-4672.
- Now that Moon rises 2 hours (southern U.S.) to nearly 2-1/2 hours
after sunset, there's a brief "window" of very dark skies right at
nightfall. From a very dark place with no sizeable source of light
pollution to the west of you, try for something most North Americans
never see. Tonight through February 8, and again February 24-March
9, starting about 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours after sunset, look for a tall, softly
luminous cone of light tapering upward from the WSW horizon: the
Zodiacal Light! The base of the cone is just above the thickest horizon
haze, and the axis near the ecliptic, or pathway of the Moon and planets.
From southernmost U.S. at this time of year, the cone of light will be
nearly vertical; from northern U.S. it is tilted left, or south of vertical.
Can you follow the Zodiacal Light as far as Saturn, 57 degrees from the
Sun tonight? The Zodiacal Light is sunlight reflected by dust in the plane
of the solar system.
- Light pollution from the proliferation of poorly designed outdoor
lighting can render the beauty of the Milky Way, Comet Hale-Bopp, and
the Zodiacal Light completely unobservable to the majority of our
population. The International Dark-Sky Association is a non-profit,
membership-based organization whose goal is to be effective -- through
education about (a) the value and effectiveness of quality nighttime
lighting and (b) solutions to the problems -- in stopping the adverse
environmental impact of light pollution and space debris. They are
making a difference and are worthy of your support!
The IDA can be reached by postal mail at 3545 N. Stewart Ave.,
Tucson, AZ 85716, USA. The IDA homepage on the World Wide Web
Another excellent website is Fred Schaaf's Light-Pollution Notes, at:
To find out the locations of the best and worst viewing sites in your part
of the country, follow IDA's links to images and satellite imagery.
Through these links you can call up an image of your own state at night
showing the areas of light pollution. As an example, in lower Michigan,
satellite photos reveal the darkest skies to be in the northeastern Lower
Peninsula, not far from Alpena. Each year, a loosely-knit group of
amateur astronomy enthusiasts that calls itself SMURFS (the Southern
Michigan Unorganized Regional Federation of Stargazers) has a
summer stargazing weekend there.
Here are some quotes from Fact Sheet on the International Dark-Sky
"The human experience of the inspiring beauty of the cosmos is at risk
for all people, not just scientists, as light pollution destroys our view of
the beautiful dark sky.
"Quality lighting is the key to overcoming light pollution. It means better
visibility at night, freedom from glare, and also a great deal of energy
savings. Everyone wins".
Continuing with the night of Saturday, January 25, once the Moon has
risen (after end of evening twilight) look for Regulus, heart of Leo,
about 5 degrees to Moon's upper left. By 1-1/2 hours before sunup on
Sunday, Moon is in WSW with Regulus 8 degrees to right.
Comet Hale-Bopp is then low in east, passing 7 degrees directly above
Altair as seen from northern U.S. early in the week. For rest of month,
comet is moving 0.7 degree per day, staying within 7 degrees of Altair
and ending to the star's upper left. (The field of view of 7-power
binoculars is about 6 or 7 degrees wide.) Comet viewing will improve
as scattered light from the Moon decreases daily. Moon will wane to
less than half full by Feb. 1.
- One-and-a-half hours before sunrise on Monday, bright Mars is in SW,
17 degrees to Moon's upper left. Note Spica 19 degrees to Mars' lower
left. Follow the Moon's motion past Mars and Spica through Thursday
morning. At the same time ahead of sunrise on Monday, Comet Hale-
Bopp is in east 7 degrees directly above Altair as seen near latitude 43
degrees north. From southern U.S. the comet now appears to the upper
left of star.
An hour before sunup, Mercury has risen between ESE and SE.
Another 15 minutes later, watch for the rising of Venus 8 degrees to
Mercury's lower left. Venus is especially difficult to observe from
northern states as its rising time moves ever closer to sunrise.
- About 5 hours after sunset, Mars is rising nearly due east, about 8
degrees to Moon's lower left. About 1-1/2 hours before sunup on
Tuesday, the waning gibbous Moon is in SW, with Mars 6 degrees
upper left. Note Spica 23 degrees to Moon's left. Comet Hale-Bopp is
then low in E, directly above Altair as seen from northernmost
contiguous U.S. (latitude 49 degrees north), and to Altair's upper left as
seen from farther south in U.S., and to the star's upper right as seen
from Alaska and most of Canada.
Tuesday, January 28
- Six hours after sunset, the waning gibbous Moon, about three-quarters
full, is low in E to ESE with Mars about 5 degrees above. About 1-1/2
hours before sunrise on Wednesday, Moon is in SSW between bright
reddish Mars and the first-magnitude bluish star Spica.
- On Thursday and mornings, about 1-1/2 hours before sunrise (before
any significant dawn brightening is visible), locate the Summer Triangle
in NE to E. The highest and brightest of its stars is zero-magnitude
bluish Vega, high in ENE. First-magnitude Deneb is in NE, 24 degrees
to Vega's lower left. First-magnitude Altair is low in E, 34 degrees to
Vega's lower right. Comet Hale-Bopp these two mornings is located
along one side of the Triangle, 7 degrees to upper left of Altair and one-
fifth of the way toward Vega.
At the same time on Thursday morning, the waning gibbous Moon is in
SSW with Spica 3 or 4 degrees to its lower right. Bright Mars is with
20 degrees to their upper right.
- One-and-a-half hours before sunup on Friday, the Moon is in the south.
Look for three bright reddish objects, each just over 30 degrees from the
Moon: Mars in SW, zero-magnitude Arcturus high above the Moon, and
first-magnitude Antares low in SSE. Which of the three reddish objects
is the brightest?
- If you're at a very clear, dark site in the middle of the night before the
Moon rises, try for the Gegenschein (German for Counterglow), or
faint oval patch of light reflected from comet and asteroid dust in the
direction 180 degrees from the Sun. At this time of year, the
Gegenschein is ideally placed in the faint constellation Cancer, the Crab,
which contains no bright star, planets, or Milky Way whose brilliance
would make the faint glow impossible to detect. Look for an oval cloud
some 10 degrees long, inside the triangle formed by Pollux, Procyon,
and Regulus. Use averted vision: Look to one side of the cloud to place
its image on a more light-sensitive part of your retina than if you looked
directly at it.
On Saturday and all next week, in east 1-1/2 hours before sunrise,
Comet Hale-Bopp passes through the lower right corner of the Summer
Triangle 7 to 11 degrees upper left of Altair. The Moon on Saturday is
just a fat crescent, getting thinner each morning and allowing darker
skies for viewing Comet Hale-Bopp. By Feb. 5 the Moon will be just a
thin crescent on ESE horizon as morning twilight begins. During Feb 6-
19, there will be no Moon in sky at all during comet's predawn viewing
time. Astronomers expect Comet Hale-Bopp to brighten and its tail to
lengthen dramatically in February as the comet closes in on Earth and