January, 2017 Programs

Winter Constellations — The mythology and science behind star patterns in the Winter sky above Lincoln.  Running time:  20 minutes

Trailer: Eclipse 2017 — Coming attraction in a sky near you.  August 21, 2017, everything goes … dark!  What causes a total solar eclipse and how to prepare for this very rare event visible in Lincoln.  Running time:  12 minutes

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What we’re looking at through the observatory’s telescopes in January

Planets:

Venus reaches greatest elongation (when it is furthest from the sun in the sky) on January 12th.  At this point in its orbit, Venus stays in the southwestern sky for more than 3 hours after sunset, and it appears approximately half-lit, becoming a crescent towards the end of the month.  A brilliant white, nearly as bright as it ever gets (magnitude -4.7), Venus is hard to miss.  Its cloudtops — all that we ever see from Earth — are almost completely featureless in a telescope.

Mars is above and to the left of Venus, coming to less than 6 degrees of it at the end of the month.  Earth and Mars are growing further apart, reducing the red planet in both size and magnitude.  Unlike Venus, Mars’s thin atmosphere poses no barrier to our seeing its surface features, but its current distance, over 150 million miles,  renders those features so tiny as to be virtually invisible in most telescopes.

(Jupiter is close to the true star Spica, high in the south well before dawn; Saturn and Mercury are low in the southeast just before dawn.  These 3 planets are not in the evening sky during observatory hours this month.)

The Moon:

An object in the observatory’s telescopes on the nights of January 7 (best viewing, just after First Quarter, in the sky all evening long) and January 14 (2 days after Full phase, rising at 8:13 p.m., little shadow detail visible).  The moon rises too late for observation on the night of January 21, and is not visible on January 28 (New Moon).

Deep Sky Objects:

Galaxies, Nebulae, globular star clusters and other objects beyond the solar system will be viewed through the telescopes throughout the month, depending upon sky conditions.

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Note:  We had hoped to have our new main telescope installed in time for our post-holiday opening on January 7.  Unfortunately, all the necessary parts for installation did not arrive soon enough for that to happen.  We’ll be working on installation later this month.  Watch this space for announcement of when the new telescope will see First Light.