First Quarter Moon occurs 1:31 p.m.
At dusk, Mars lingers in the southwest in Capricornus and sets early. Brilliant Venus, Evening Star, ascends into the southwestern sky. Outer planets dim Neptune, in Aquarius, sets in the west by 9 p.m. and blue-green Uranus drifts across the south in Pisces, the Fish, about 5 degrees left of the moon. Cetus, the Whale, swims across the south. Aries, the Ram, chases Pegasus, the Winged Horse, toward the western horizon. Bright Vega, in Lyra the Harp, leads the immense Summer Triangle toward the northwestern horizon. Cygnus, the Swan, becomes the Northern Cross. The Royal Family reigns in the north: King Cepheus, Queen Cassiopeia, their daughter Andromeda with our nearest galaxy, and Perseus, Hero. Capella guides Auriga, Charioteer, toward the north. The delicate Seven Sisters (Pleiades star cluster) lead Taurus, the Bull, to the Zenith. Ruddy Aldebaran (Bull’s red eye) winks from the V-shaped Hyades cluster (Bull’s face). Aldebaran, a red giant, lies 65 light years from us. The Hyades cluster contains more than 200 stars, and lies 130 light years away.
Mid-evening gigantic Orion, the Hunter, climbs higher in the east. Telescopes reveal the Great Orion Nebula, a glowing stellar nursery where stars are born. Procyon, Little Dog, follows Orion. Brilliant Sirius sparkles in Orion’s Big Dog in the southeast. Dim Comet Lovejoy appears in the southeast a few degrees below bright Rigel (Orion’s left knee). The Gemini Twins stride higher in the northeast. Before 10 p.m. bright Jupiter glows in the east beside Leo, Lion. The Big Dipper rises in the northeast.
Six planets grace the evening sky on New Year’s Eve. Aim binoculars to Venus 3 degrees above Mercury on the southwestern horizon. They set early. Mars lies in the southwest until mid-evening. Neptune drifts into the west followed by Uranus in the south. They set before midnight. Bright Jupiter rises higher in the east.
By 6 a.m., silver Saturn leads huge Scorpius higher in the southeast. Antares, red heart, sparkles in the Scorpion’s torso. Spica, in Virgo, twinkles in the southeast. Corvus, the Crow, flies across the south. The Omega Centauri cluster shimmers low in the south. Jupiter leads the Lion westward. The Big Dipper hangs in the north. Bright Arcturus sparkles in the east. Vega appears low in the northeast.
The Quadrantid Meteors radiate from an area near Arcturus and are most intense in the predawn today and tomorrow. Despite a full moon, about 35 meteors per hour may be visible as the Earth glides through fragments of a disintegrated asteroid or comet. A few fireballs may be visible.
Compiled by Barb Yager, Southern Cross Astronomical Society, 305-661-1375, scas.org