About 7 p.m., brilliant Venus begins to descend to a few degrees above the southwestern horizon as bright Jupiter rises a few degrees above the eastern horizon at the right of the Gemini Twins, Castor and Pollux. Jupiter approaches its closest encounter with Earth next week. Capella guides Auriga, Charioteer, across the north-northeast.
In the east, the delicate Seven Sisters (Pleiades cluster) lead Taurus, Bull to the Zenith. The ancient Druids celebrated their New Year with the Samhain festival when the Pleiades rose at nightfall and reached the Zenith at midnight.
Ruddy Aldebaran (Bull’s red eye) winks from the V-shaped Hyades cluster in Taurus (Bull’s face). Gigantic Orion, Hunter, climbs higher in the east, aiming at the Bull. The Great Orion Nebula, a huge gas cloud that produces young stars, glows in Orion’s sword. Spectacular in telescopes. Procyon, Little Dog, follows Orion. Brilliant blue Sirius sparkles in Orion’s Big Dog in the southeast.
Cetus, Whale, swims across the south. Aries, Ram, chases Pegasus (Winged Horse) westward. Outer planet blue-green Uranus sails across the southwest and sets about midnight. The Northern Cross stands on the northwestern horizon. The Royal Family swings into the northwest. Late evening Leo, Lion, surveys the eastern horizon. The bowl of the Big Dipper appears low in the northeast.
The New Year’s new moon occurs at 6:14 a.m. A new moon is not visible as it drifts across the sky with the sun. At dusk, a sliver of a young moon may be visible briefly below Venus near the west-southwestern horizon. They set early.
In the evening twilight, aim binoculars at the young moon with dark earthshine, in Capricornus, 7 degrees above bright Venus descending in the southwest.
By 12:10 a.m., brightening Mars rises in the southeast, 5 degrees above Spica, in Virgo. Around 3 a.m. silver Saturn appears in the southeast in Libra. The ice-ringed planet rises below Spica, in Virgo. Bright Arcturus, Herdsman, sparkles overhead.
The Quadrantid Meteor Shower is most intense around 4 a.m. in a moonless sky. About 60 meteors per hour radiate from Arcturus.
By 6 a.m. huge Scorpius crawls above the southeastern horizon. Jupiter drifts lower in the northwest. The dim Beehive cluster shimmers in the northwest. Leo, Lion crawls westward. The Big Dipper hangs in the north.
At 7 a.m. Earth orbits closest to the sun by 91.4 million miles. In evening dusk, Venus glows 5 degrees above the southwestern horizon.
Compiled by Barb Yager, Southern Cross Astronomical Society, 305-661-1375, scas.org