EVENTS AND NAKED EYE VIEWING
NOTE: All Sky Charts Courtesy of SkyGuide App Unless Otherwise noted.
January 1 (Tuesday) Venus and Jupiter Visit the Moon. Venus, Jupiter, and the thin crescent Moon ring in the New Year just before morning twilight.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! Take a look above the SE horizon at 6 AM MST to see the waning crescent Moon, Venus, and Jupiter celebrating the first day of 2019!.
December 31 (Monday) NASA/JPL New Horizons Spacecraft Flyby of Kuiper Belt Object Ultima Thule (Tool-ee). At 10:33 PM MST or 33 minutes after the Ball falls in Times Square, mankind will reach another milestone in space exploration. New Horizons will fly by the most distant object ever explored in our solar system whizzing past Ultima Thule at only 2,175 miles from this primordial leftover of the formation of our solar system. Ultima Thule is very small compared to Pluto. It is only 10 to 20 miles in diameter which is more like an asteroid or comet instead of a planet. Why did NASA pick such a small world to explore? The main reason is it is the only one within the flight path of New Horizons. Regardless, this tiny world can tell us much about how our solar system formed. So far, we know that Ultima Thule is irregularly shaped perhaps due to two objects merged into one or two objects orbiting closely around each other. We also know that its surface is dark and red which is typical of objects that have been bombarded with billions of years worth of high energy radiation. We'll know much more in the weeks and months following the encounter as New Horizons downloads its data to NASA's Deep Space Network (DSN) on Earth. It takes over six hours at the speed of light for signals from the New Horizons spacecraft to reach Earth, so we won't know if there was a successful flyby until early afternoon on New Year's Day. The communication capability of New Horizons over the vast 4 billion+ miles distance from Earth means it'll take an excruciatingly long 22 months to transmit all the data from this historic event. If you want the most up to date information on the Ultima Thule Flyby, go to: https://www.nasa.gov/mission_pages/newhorizons/main/index.html
January 6 (Sunday) Venus at Greatest Elongation West. Venus continues to race ahead of Earth during its orbit around the Sun. It will reach the greatest angular separation from the Sun from our viewpoint at 10 PM MST on January 5. However, we won't see it until the next morning when Venus will be about 25 degrees above the SE horizon an hour before sunrise. Look for Jupiter which will be shinning only 1/3 as bright as the "Morning Star" and half way down below left of Venus.
The predawn sky on January 6 when Venus is the farthest angular distance west of the Sun as viewed from Earth will look very much like the view on New Year's Day morning except there will be no Moon. If you live in a dark sky location, you may also see ruddy Antares, the heart of Scorpius at the 90 degree end of a right triangle formed by Venus, Jupiter, and the Rival of Mars.
January 20 (Sunday) Full Wolf Super Blood Moon. This will be a favorable time to see a complete cycle of a total lunar eclipse. Lunar eclipses take a long time. This one will take 5 hours 11 minutes and 37 seconds from start to finish. That's long enough that most people (except astronomy nuts like me) won't watch the whole thing especially during a frigid January night. The following snapshots will show you time and extent of the eclipse so you can plan when you want to venture into the winter cold to have a look.
Full Wolf Moon before lunar eclipse starts 7PM MST
Earth's penumbra shades the bottom of the Moon
Earth's umbra (red tint) covers bottom of the Moon
Earth's umbra covers half of the Moon
TOTALITY 9:50 to 10:35 MST midpoint 10:12 MST
Earth's umbra noticeably leaves Moon
Earth's umbra covers half the Moon
Earth's umbra touches the Moon's right side
Earth's penumbra touches the Moon's right side
All you need to see this eclipse are your own eyes. Because this is a lunar eclipse, you don't need special filters or glasses to view it safely. If you want to see the Earth's shadow running across the Moon's surface together with interesting color changes in cratered, mountainous, and smooth lava flow areas on the Moon, I suggest using 10X50 or larger binoculars mounted on a camera tripod. A DSLR camera with a zoom lens mounted on a tripod will work fine, but you have to change the ISO and exposure times frequently to allow for changes in the Moon's brightness during the event.
January 31 (Thursday) Venus Moon Occultation. At 11 AM MST, the thin waning crescent Moon will pass 1 tenth of a degree south of brilliant Venus. Trouble is, it'll be late morning with the Sun high in the sky about 45 degrees to the left of this event. The good news is Venus is almost as far away from the Sun as it can get from our perspective. So it's possible to see Venus and the Moon naked eye or through binoculars if you know where to look. WARNING! Even though the Moon and Venus are somewhat far from the Sun, there is a danger of permanent damage to your eyesight if you look directly at the Sun. You must be careful to shade your eyes from the Sun's glare while scanning about 25 degrees above the SSW horizon to see the Moon and Venus almost touching each other. A much better idea is to look at Venus above the SE horizon about an hour before sunrise, then scan about a degree or two right and slightly above the Morning Star to see the razor thin waning crescent Moon.
Look above the SE horizon at 6 AM MST to see Venus next to the Moon with Jupiter and Saturn framing them above right and below left respectively. This is the safest and perhaps the best way to view this event even though Venus is a bit farther away from the Moon than it will be later in the morning when the Sun is shining.
This is the big picture of the sky at the time of closest contact between the Moon and Venus. I cannot adjust the lighting in this image to match the broad daylight blue sky you'll see at this time of day. Note the Sun and close by Mercury near the upper left corner of this image. Use your left hand to shade your eyes from the
Sun as you look about 26 degrees above the SSW horizon to find the Moon and Venus. It won't be easy because the Moon is near its New or totally dark phase.
I tried to increase the brightness and reduce contrast to simulate how the sky, Moon, and Venus will look close up in binoculars at the time of closest occultation. Of course, you won't see any of the stars shown in this image. I've seen brilliant Venus in broad daylight many times and it's amazingly easy to see once you locate it and your eyes focus in on it. Normally, your eyes focus not on infinity but rather to a closer distance when looking at a clear blue sky. This is called, "distance myopia." Your eyes immediately focus properly once you see a bright object against the blue sky background.