January 22 – February 4, 2018
Mount Washington — The Sun, our star, is returning to the northern hemisphere at a steady clip, rising noticeably north of its furthest south-of-east marker and setting north of its furthest southwest reach on the horizon. Each day sunrise is a minute earlier and sunset a minute or two later. By Feb. 4, we will enjoy an increase of one hour of daylight over the final 3 weeks of December, the darkest time of the year. Recent daytime skies have reflected bracing ice blues over frozen landscapes and, alternately, soft vernal overtones during thaws. As the Sun arcs higher in the sky, we feel the pull toward spring. Groundhog Day, Feb. 2, is the halfway point between the Winter Solstice and Spring Equinox.
All night long, from nightfall until about 3 a.m., the most riveting stars and constellations of winter skies travel from east to west in the form of an oval or hexagon surrounding the constellation Orion the Hunter. They are seven of the brightest stars visible in northern skies; the shape they sketch is known as the Winter Circle or Winter Hexagon (see the diagram below). Sunset is at 4:54 p.m. on the 22nd; nightfall at 6:32 p.m.. Sunset on Feb. 4 is 5:16 p.m.; nightfall at 6:50 p.m..
Before dawn and into twilight, look to the southeast and south to see a beautiful planetary lineup: Jupiter is the brightest and highest; reddish Mars, the dimmest, is below and to the left of Jupiter; and Saturn is furthest left and closest to the horizon. Begin to look about an hour before sunrise. Sunrise on the 22nd is at 7:16 a.m. and at 7:02 a.m. on Feb. 4 (see diagram).
On Wednesday morning, Jan. 31, a partial eclipse of the Full Blue Moon will be visible at dawn. An excerpt from my previous column on the subject follows:
“Here in the northeast, the event will be a fleeting partial eclipse that begins at dawn as the big moon approaches the west-northwest horizon. It will be challenging to see even the partial eclipse; it is essential to locate a horizon view. The penumbra (see diagram), which is very subtle, is first visible at 6:20 a.m. Partial eclipse begins at 6:48am. According to Sky and Telescope, “Within 10 minutes, by 6:58 a.m., the lunar orb looks like a giant sugar cookie with a bite taken out of it.” Nine minutes later, 7:07 a.m., the moon sets! The whole timeframe is from 6:20 a.m. until 7:07 a.m. Simultaneously, the Sun rises in the east-southeast, also at 7:07 a.m.”