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The Night Sky Tonight: January 22 – February 4

By Mark Wagner

Mark Wagner brings us highlights of what's happening in the sky each night this week. Click on each image to enlarge the view. Happy gazing!

Friday, January 22
Tonight's Moon is 70.4% illuminated, waxing gibbous at 9.89 days. Use your 10X binoculars to find (1) Clavius, with its outstanding arc of craters within its 136 mile diameter formation. Nearby (2) Longomontanus is a fine binocular target, 88 miles diameter with steep slopes and white spots. Head north with 100mm next to find (3) Hesiodus A, and its unusual concentric rings over its 9 mile size. Then follow the fine (4) Rima Hesiodus, running 182 miles with widths up to 2 miles, all visible in 200mm instruments.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion UltraView 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion StarBlast II 4.5 Equatorial Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Sombrero Galaxy In Virgo.

Saturday, January 23
The Sombrero Galaxy is a wonderful target for any telescope. Located on the southern border of Virgo, find it using the chain of bright field stars pointing directly to it. In a darker sky, the central bulge and dust lane bisecting its nearly edge-on disk are both visible. Hubble photos of this spectacular galaxy are stunning. At a distance of 31 million light years, and apparent size of 9x4 arc-minutes, it shines at magnitude 9.5. How large is it? Around 30% that of our Milky Way.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 150mm GoTo Reflector without Controller, Orion SkyView Pro 8 GoTo Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Mercury At Its Highest.

Sunday, January 24
With an 86% illuminated Moon brightening the evening sky, look south-southwest in the sunset twilight for Mercury, reaching its highest point, next to the eastern pair of stars Deneb Algiedi and Nashira. Mercury is at dichotomy tonight, essentially at half-phase, corresponding to when it is farthest from the Sun from our perspective. Find a clear horizon and try for it in your telescope, this is your best opportunity to see it with an obvious phase.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Apex 127mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope, Orion Apex 102mm Maksutov-Cassegrain Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Messier 49 In Virgo.

Monday, January 25
At magnitude 9.4 with 10.2x8.3 arc-minutes apparent size, Messier 49 is an easy target for any telescope. The first member of the Virgo Galaxy Cluster to be discovered, it is an elliptical galaxy 56 million light years distant, yet more luminous than any galaxy closer. Use stars Spica (A) alpha Virginis, (D) Denebola and (P) Porrima to locate (V) Vindemiatrix. From there, the pair (R) Rho and 32 Virginis will lead you to this target. If you observe it, post your impression here!

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion StarSeeker IV 80ST 80mm GoTo Refractor without Control, Orion StarSeeker IV 114mm GoTo Reflector without Controller

Tomorrow Evening: Big Moon Targets.

Tuesday, January 26
Tonight's Moon is 96.8% illuminated at 13.89 day old waxing gibbous. Use your 10X binoculars to find (1) Grimaldi, a 134 mile diameter formation resembling a large, flat, lava filled sea. To its south using 50mm, (2) Cruger is a 28 mile diameter crater with an albedo close to that of Grimaldi, lava filled with a flat floor. Challenge yourself in with a 100mm instrument to find some (3) Grimaldi volcanoes (a, b, c). If you have a 300mm instrument, try 138 mile long (4) Rimae Grimaldi on the eastern shore.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Scenix 10x50 Wide-Angle Binoculars, Orion SkyQuest XT12i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Diamond Of Virgo.

Wednesday, January 27
With the Moon up both after sunset and before sunrise today, why not look for a wide naked eye view target? The Diamond Of Virgo is a near parallelogram shape easy to view, even with the Moon up. A shape made from the stars that is not a constellation is called an asterism. A good example of an asterism is the Big Dipper, which is comprised of stars in the constellation Ursa Major. The Diamond Of Virgo uses stars in four constellations: Spica in Virgo, Arcturus in Bootes, Cor Caroli in Canes Venatici and Denebola in Leo.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion DeepMap 600 Folding Star Chart, Orion DualBeam 2600mAH LED Waterproof Astro Lantern

Tomorrow Evening: Constellation Orion.

Thursday, January 28
How many of you find Orion the most recognizable constellation? It dates to antiquity, as early as Babylonian star catalogues of the late Bronze Age. That is impressive for any constellation not along the Ecliptic/Zodiac! The red super giant star Betelgeuse is its (A) alpha star. Bounded by (1) Taurus, (2) Gemini, dim (3) Monoceros, (4) Lepus and (5) Eridanus, you'll find it full of dim galaxies, open clusters and nebulae. Among the nebulae is perhaps the most famous, M42, the Orion Nebula which is a true can't miss object for everyone.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion RedBeam LED Motion Sensing Headlamp, Orion 2x54 Ultra Wide Angle Binoculars

Tomorrow Evening: Full Moon

Friday, January 29
Full Wolf Moon, Ice Moon, Old Moon, Moon After Yule, Snow Moon. The January Full Moon has seen all these named applied. Which works best for you, or do you know others? This Full Moon is squarely in Leo, between (A) Regulus and (G) Algieba. For a winter Full Moon, how wonderful it sits in a constellation that reminds us of Spring! Question for debate, is this the first Full Moon of a new decade?

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: 1.25" Orion 13% Transmission Moon Filter, Orion Shorty 1.25" 2x Barlow Lens

Tomorrow Evening: The Great Orion Nebula.

Saturday, January 30
The Great Orion Nebula, also known as Messier 42 (M42) is one of the great eyepiece views in all amateur astronomy. Visible in binoculars as a hazy patch in the sword of Orion, in an eyepiece it rewards at any magnification. High power reveals the Trapezium, the core of a star nursery with four to (under good conditions) six star. Dark nebula, arcing wings looking like smooth clay, extended wispy dust filling out its entire form. There is so much to see. Want more? Adding a narrow band filter like the Ultrablock will do the trick. Don't miss this view.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: 1.25" Orion UltraBlock NarrowBand Filter, 2" Orion UltraBlock Narrowband Eyepiece Filter

Tomorrow Morning: Young Moon Targets.

Sunday, January 31
At 90.7% illumination, the moon is now waning gibbous phase and growing closer. A 10X Binoculars will give a fine view of (1) Crater Janssen, a damaged circular formation 110 miles diameter with a tormented floor. Close by with a 50mm (2) Crater Steinheil overlapping with Crater Watt, showing high walls within its 41 miles. Little (3) Crater Janssen P is isolated and will require 100mm to show its 3 mile wide bowl shape. With a 200mm (4) Rimae Janssen is an 86 mile long south to north groove on the east side of Janssen's floor.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsonian Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT8 Classic Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Binocular Double Star 23 Orionis

Monday, February 1
Get your 10x50 binoculars out this evening to split the double star 23 Orionis. This blue and white pair are a physical double, a binary star. The primary is magnitude 4.95 with a companion nearly two magnitudes dimmer with a 32 arc-second separation at position angle 29. It is surprisingly distant at over 1500 light years, discovered in 1782 and catalogued at STF 696. Use (G) Gamma Orionis (Belatrix) to star hop. Steady your binoculars using a tripod or bracing against a solid surface.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Resolux 10x50 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars, Orion Resolux 10.5x70 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars

Tomorrow Morning: More Moon Targets.

Tuesday, February 2
The Waning Gibbous Moon has decreased to 73.8% illumination at 20.3 days. Use a 10X Binocular to find (1) Crater Theophilus on the Terminator. This 61 mile diameter crater shows a central mountain with four summits and crushes its southern neighbor (2) Crater Cyrillus, a good 50mm target. Cyrillus shows a three peak central mountain and high walls. Use a 100mm to find (3) Catena Abulfeda, a linear splatter of craterlets crossing the surface from southeast to northwest.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion 10x50 E-Series Waterproof Binoculars, Orion SkyQuest XT4.5 Classic Dobsonian Telescope Kit

Tomorrow Evening: Carbon Star BL Orionis.

Wednesday, February 3
Carbon stars are interesting. They tend to be variables, and range in color from subtle to deep blood red. BL Orionis is a carbon star located between (G) Gamma Geminorum and the pair (X) Xi and (N) Nu Orionis. It is a noticeably red carbon star, and should be obvious in your finder. It is also a variable, ranging from magnitude 5.9 to 6.6 over 154 days. Imagine how intrinsically bright this object is, naked eye from over 2300 light years estimated distance.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion SkyQuest XT8 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope, Orion SkyQuest XT10 PLUS Dobsonian Reflector Telescope

Tomorrow Morning: Moon Targets.

Thursday, February 4
Today's Moon is at Last Quarter, 51% illuminated at 22.3 days. We'll look around (1) Crater Ptolemaeus' area. Use 10X binoculars to view the crater's large 93 mile diameter flat floor and how it creates a beautiful trio with Alphonsus and Arzachel. With a 50mm find (2) Crater Alpetragius between Arzachel and Alphonsus, with a tormented floor and striking central mountain. With a 200mm instrument try for (3) Rima Arzachel. With 500mm sinuous (4) Rima Alphonsus.

Skill Level: Beginner

Suggested Gear: Orion Resolux 10x50 Waterproof Astronomy Binoculars, Orion SkyQuest XT8i IntelliScope Dobsonian Telescope

Tomorrow Evening: Messier 78 In Orion.

Charts from Starry Night Pro. All sketches courtesy Jeremy Perez from his Belt Of Venus blog. Lunar images courtesy NASA LRO.

Mark Wagner is a lifelong astronomy enthusiast and deep sky observer in the San Francisco bay area. Visit our Facebook Page if you'd like to post comments, questions, sketches or images you've taken to our Night Sky Tonight post.