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EYES TO THE SKY: Saturn and Scorpius, Venus and Mecury, with crescent moon

In mid-January the northern hemisphere comes out of the darkest days of the year, the days on either side of the winter solstice. At a quickened pace, daylight lifts the late afternoon. An increase to 9 hours 57 minutes will be experienced on January 31.

Mt. Washington — Dynamic pairings of planets, stars and a waning then waxing crescent moon are sure to lure the nature enthusiast outdoors during these mid-January weeks. Whenever skies are clear, even on frigid nights, the delight of observing ever changing and fleeting relationships among celestial bodies keeps this stargazer warm. But it is hardly night when this month’s most compelling displays can be seen. At dawn, planet Saturn is in the vicinity of Antares, the red star that is the heart of the constellation Scorpius the Scorpion. At dusk, planets Venus and Mercury have until about the 21st written on their dance card.

What’s more, from the 14th through the 19th a morning crescent moon will move through its waning (decreasing in size) phases in the southeast, adding its flare to the distant lights in its path. Then, after new moon on the 20th — when our natural satellite is hidden from view as it passes between Earth and the sun – the moon returns as a waxing (increasing in size) evening crescent from the 21st through the 25th.

By Saturday the 17th, Mercury is pulling away to Venus's right.
By Saturday the 17th, Mercury is pulling away to Venus’s right.

The morning moon’s tour of the south to southeastern sky arrives at Spica, the brightest star in the constellation Virgo the Virgin, on the 13th. Next morning, look up from Luna to red-orange Arcturus. The crescent’s rendezvous with Saturn on the 16th is predicted to be exquisitely close.

Saturn is above the left claw of Scorpius the Scorpion, one of the most recognizable constellations. It is intriguing to see the scorpion on a winter’s morning, given that it is a mainstay of summer evenings. An unobstructed view of the horizon is of the essence to see the tail end of the figure. The arachnid’s heart star, bright red-orange Antares, is unmistakable below golden Saturn. On the 17th the moon is to Antares’ left.

Evening stargazing begins as early as 5:20 p.m. in the southwest where Venus shines rather close above hilly Berkshire skylines. The light of much fainter Mercury, to Venus’ right, reaches the eye about 10 minutes later. Very near each other on the 12th, the space between them widens every evening. On the 21st the first waxing crescent appears just above Mercury! Our view of them before setting will be fleeting. Find rusty Mars to the left of a delicate crescent on January 22.

In mid-January the northern hemisphere comes out of the darkest days of the year, the days on either side of the winter solstice. Day length from December 17 – 27 was 9 hour 6 minutes. At a quickened pace, daylight lifts the late afternoon. An increase to 9 hours 57 minutes will be experienced on January 31. Sunset is 1 to 2 minutes later every day. Sunrise will be two, then four, then six minutes earlier each week.

Images are courtesy of Sky and Telescope.

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