Again this month Mars dominates the night sky and aptly so, as NASA’s recent Mars Insight Lander was such a success. Not until a few minutes after 4 a.m. on Wednesday does Venus show up on the eastern horizon, as does Jupiter about 5:45 a.m.
At 6:45 a.m. Mercury rises, about an hour before sunrise, and too close to the sun for good viewing. So is Saturn, which passes very close to the sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system. The ringed gas giant is at its most distant from the Earth this month as the two planets lie on opposite sides of the solar system. Saturn appears separated only about half a degree from the sun.
Around 7 on the evening of Jan. 10, you can find Neptune in a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars. Place the waxing crescent moon just out of the field at the 7 o’clock position, and Neptune will be in the center of the field, bracketed by two brighter stars in Aquarius, at the 5 o’clock and 11 o’clock positions.
Venus and Jupiter will be in conjunction — meaning that their longitude is the same — on the morning of Jan. 21, with Venus passing less than 3 degrees to the north of Jupiter. The two planets appearing in such a close approach also is called an appulse.
The Quadrantid meteor shower will reach its peak on Jan. 4. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible is only around 12 per hour, since the radiant — on the northern edge of the constellation Boötes — will be quite low in the sky.
A lunar eclipse begins at 9:37 p.m. Jan. 20. The full moon will become fully eclipsed from 11:44 p.m. to 12:44 a.m. the next morning. The only other eclipses visible from the United States this year will be a partial lunar eclipse, visible July 16 for only 16 seconds, from the southeastern-most tip of Florida.
Q: I figure that stars are dimmer because they are further away, but are stars much different in size? — R.B., Akron
A: Stars differ quite greatly in size. Our sun is 865,000 miles across, which most of us find difficult to imagine.
So try this: Go get a peppercorn out of the pantry. That will serve as a model of the Earth, and our sun then becomes the size of a bowling ball.
Betelgeuse, the right shoulder of Orion, on this scale would fit just between the goal posts on a football field. The largest star yet found, UY Scuti, would cover 18 football fields, and a neutron star, the smallest (again, with a peppercorn as the Earth) would be .003 millimeters across, much smaller than the period at the end of this sentence.
The periodically updated "The Universe at Large" is presented at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays at the Hoover-Price Planetarium. It is included with admission to the museum. Children must be 5 years or older to attend.
The planetarium also offers an astronomy program for adults only on the first Monday of every month at 1 p.m., with a show followed by a 30- to 45-minute open lecture/discussion.
For more information, visit the planetarium’s blog on the museum’s website or call 330-455-7043.
David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043, email email@example.com or read his blog at https://hooverpriceplanetarium.wordpress.com/.