EVENTS AND NAKED EYE VIEWING
NOTE: All Sky Charts Courtesy of SkyGuide App Unless Otherwise noted.
January 1 (Monday) Full Wolf and Super Moon. Like last month, this Full Moon occurs when the Moon's elliptical orbit around Earth is near its closest point. As a matter of fact, this Super Moon is the largest for 2018 and it happens on the first day of the year! There are several repetitive lunar cycles. Some of the best known ones in the astronomical community are the Callipic, Hipparchic, Metonic, and Saros. They are important in predicting where the Moon will be and how it will interact with the Earth and Sun from month to month as well as for centuries into the future. I like this relatively rare lunar cycle taking place in 2018. We will have two Blue Moons (January and March) and in February there will be NO Full Moon at all!
January 7 (Sunday) From 3:30 to 6 AM MST Near Occultation of Jupiter and Mars. For you early risers, there's an impressive rendezvous between the largest planet in our solar system and the fourth rock from the Sun. At 3:30, the pair will be high enough above the ESE horizon to see them both. By 6 AM, they'll be about 30 degrees above the SE horizon and will continue to rise higher in the sky. Unfortunately, the Sun will be rising too causing the morning twilight to wash out the glow of these two planets after 6:30. It'll be easy to spot Jupiter as it'll be the brightest "star" in that area of the morning sky. Ruddy Mars, although about 5 times dimmer than the Jovian planet, will be easy to see through a standard pair of binoculars less than 1 degree below Jupiter. As a matter of fact (provided you have steady hands or attach your binocs to a tripod) you should also spot all four Galilean moons two on each side of Jupiter. They will be (from lower left to upper right) Europa, Io, Calisto, and Ganymede.
January 12 (Friday) Algol at Minimum. At 8:29 PM MST, the eclipsing variable star, Beta Persei will reach minimum brightness as its larger dimmer star passes in front of its smaller brighter companion. The timing of this minimum allows you to see the brighter "before and after" cycles at reasonable times in the evening. Start looking at around 6:30 PM, then again at minimum, and one last time at 10:30. You can then compare the relative brightness of Algol to see the "Evil Eye" blink.
January 30 (Tuesday) Dwarf Planet Ceres Reaches Opposition. Normally, I'd recommend looking for Ceres on this night, but the near Full Moon will be close by just a few degrees to the right of the largest object in the asteroid belt. The Moon's glare at 50 times brighter will most certainly wash out dimmer Ceres. I'll mention it again next month when the Moon won't be intruding in this area of the night sky. That doesn't mean you can't look for Ceres earlier in January before it reaches its most favorable viewing time. Starting January 15 at 8 PM MST Ceres will be above the eastern horizon to the left of the dim constellation Cancer The Crab. I won't show you a locator chart at this time because Ceres will be in such a dim area of the sky, that there's no easy star hopping technique that'll help you find it. At this point, I recommend using a computerized telescope with Ceres in its data base and look at it over a series of nights, say January 15 to 20. You'll probably see it move against the "fixed star background" from one night to the next. Ceres will be near magnitude 7, so you should see it easily in a telescope aperture of 4" or greater using a medium to high power eyepiece.
This is the position of Jupiter at 4:45 AM MST on January 7. It's about the best time to view the occultation of Jupiter and Mars. As you can see, only Jupiter is visible in this naked eye view above the SE horizon.
This is a close up of what you'd see through binoculars or a small telescope. Note the two pairs of Moons on either side of Jupiter. They nearly touch each other. Jupiter is about the right size and luminosity in this image, but Mars should look half the size and about 5 times dimmer than depicted.
This is the position of Algol during mid eclipse. 2 hours earlier it'll be near where Auriga is in this image. 2 hours later, it will have rotated counterclockwise to the left a bit higher than where Cassiopeia is shown here. Don't forget to try to get a peek at the Great Andromeda Galaxy dimly shown near the left center edge of this image. Use averted vision to better see the galaxy with your unaided eyes.
January 30 and 31 (Tuesday-Wednesday) Full Snow-Super-Blue Moon, AND Total Lunar Eclipse!! Technically, the Moon reaches its Full phase at 6:27 AM MST on January 31. But, to get the FULL (pun intended) extent of what this lunar cycle has to offer, here's what I'd like you to do:
First: watch the near (99%) Full Snow/Super Moon rise just above the ENE horizon about 20 minutes BEFORE sunset on January 30. The Moon will be very near perigee (closest to Earth) and should look...well...SUPER! It'll be 14% larger and almost 30% brighter than a "regular" Full Moon.
Second: get to bed early so you can wake up before dawn to see an incredible sight. At 4:40 AM, the 99.9% Full Moon will be high above the western horizon and you will notice a slight darkening on its upper left side. That darkening (Earth's shadow covering the Moon) will continue to maximum total eclipse at 6:30 AM. Here's the REALLY COOL part because all you need are your own eyes! No camera can duplicate what your eyes will see. I estimate that by 6 AM when this lunar eclipse reaches totality, you'll see in gorgeous detail, the Summer Milky Way arching from North to South where it wasn't visible at all just an hour earlier when the Super Moon was shining. Then, the morning twilight will begin to interfere and slowly wash out the Milky Way...all this while the Moon is blood red approaching the western horizon! I experienced this just once before last year when a similar eclipse occurred before sunrise. It was almost as magnificent as a total solar eclipse. It'll be one of the most spectacular all sky astronomical events you can ever see, so hope for clear skies so you can take it all in from every point on the compass!
Now something else ultra-cool...This Full Moon will be the second one in January. Most astronomers will call this a Blue Moon because it's the second in the same month. There used to be a different definition, but it's not as relevant as the one I just described. So there you have it! This Full Moon will be jam packed with everything from Super to Snow to Blue to Red. I hope you will be able to enjoy it all! No special equipment or glasses needed because you'll be looking at the Moon, not the Sun.