Babe Among the Stars: January 2008

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Galaxy Babe's column banner, showing a full moon and some little folk looking up at the sky

Mortal as I am, I know that I am born for a day. But when I follow at my pleasure the serried multitude of the stars in their circular course, my feet no longer touch the earth - Ptolemy


January is 31 days long and named after the Roman god of gates and doorways, Janus. Usually depicted in art as two-faced and looking in opposite directions, the name is now colloquially applied to a duplicitous person.

Why, while I placate other gods, Janus, do I bring the wine and incense first to you? He replied: So that through me, who guard the threshold, you can have access to whichever god you please.

- Ovid.

January Anniversary

Dutch astronomer Jacobus Kapteyn was born on 19 January, 1851. He studied the proper motion of stars, discovering that they weren't random as was thought. What he was recording in his notes was the first description of the rotation of the Milky Way. He was still working at Leiden Observatory in The Netherlands when he died aged 71. The Kapteyn Crater on the Moon and Asteroid 818 Kapteyn are named after him, as well as a red dwarf star he discovered, Kapteyn's Star, in the minor southern constellation Pictor 'the Painter's Easel'.

Know Your Constellations

Mars put on a spectacular show in Gemini 'the Twins' during December and will still be viewable throughout January, although you'll need to be looking for the red planet in the constellation Taurus 'the Bull'. So you don't mix Mars up with the red 'eye of the Bull' - Aldebaran; Mars won't twinkle like the stars do.

Saturn rises in the east around 9pm local time, and if you train your telescope or binoculars on the fabulous 'Lord of the Rings', you'll see the planet directly overhead around midnight. You'll need to be looking in the constellation Leo 'the Lion'.

Comet 17P Holmes is still putting on a spectacular show, it's unmissable in the constellation Perseus 'the Hero', it has a diameter larger than that of the Sun!

January Diary Dates

  • 18: Coma Berenicids meteor shower: although with an almost-full moon it won't be dark enough for ideal viewing. Best time will be after midnight to pre-dawn.

  • 19: Mars and the crescent moon will rise together immediately after sunset, just ½° apart. You'll need to be looking east.

  • 22: The full moon will be nestled among Messier 44, the Beehive Cluster (Praesepe), a feature of the constellation Cancer 'the Crab', so you have a perfect excuse for moon-gazing!

  • 24: Two days after the full moon it will rise with a new partner, glorious Saturn.

  • 30: An asteroid called 2007 WD5 has a 1/28 chance of impacting with Mars on this date. The asteroid measures approximately 50m in diameter, the same size as the asteroid that exploded over Tunguska, Siberia, a century ago this year.

  • 31: Pre-dawn - Venus and Jupiter are only 1½° apart - you will need a good horizon to view the alignment (look to the south-east).

Phases of the Moon

  • Chat about your celestial observances at the A413876

Babe Among the Stars

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