What’s Up in the Sky: Astronomy for January

By David L. Richards
Special to the Beacon Journal

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I hope you had a chance to see the Geminids this month. From 10 p.m. to midnight, when the clouds rolled in, I caught about three dozen, about three of them really spectacular.

Your next chance is the Quadrantid meteor shower in the hours before the dawn on Thursday. Up to 60 or more meteors an hour may be seen in a dark sky, but unfortunately the waning gibbous moon rises at 11:45 p.m. Wednesday.

On Tuesday, Venus rises at 7:20 a.m. for you early walkers at magnitude -3.9. By the end of 2013, Venus will be 2½ times brighter, at magnitude -4.9 in December.

You may need binoculars to spot the tiny sliver of the 28-day-old moon on the horizon at 7:45 a.m. on Jan. 10, when Luna will be only 2 degrees from Venus.

Mercury is not visible this month, but next month will be at its best for the year. Mars sets early at 8:01 p.m. Tuesday, and travels across the horizon from Capricornus into Aquarius by month’s end.

Jupiter rises at 3:43 p.m., and remains like a conspicuous “second eye” of Taurus, the Bull, throughout the month. On Jan. 22, less than 2 degrees separate the giant planet and our moon.

On the last day of January, the second largest and the only naked-eye asteroid, Vesta, can be easily found. At 9 p.m., place Jupiter in the center of the field of a pair of 7 x 50 binoculars, and Vesta will be at the edge of the field at the 8 o’clock position.

Saturn rises at 3:54 a.m. Tuesday, and remains in Libra, the Scales, until May.

On Tuesday you can easily find Algol, the Demon Star, in Perseus. The star is well known, as about every 69 hours it dims suddenly for several hours before returning quickly to its former brightness. This change is so rapid it is apparent to the naked eye.

Algol is a three-star system in which the bright star is regularly eclipsed by a dimmer star. Therefore, Algol’s magnitude is usually 2.1, but regularly drops to 3.4. You can find it by looking straight up, right at the zenith at 9:48 p.m., when it will be at its brightest.

Q&A

Q: I read the Ask Marilyn column in the newspaper (by Marilyn vos Savant) where she stated that “matter comprises 5 percent of the entire universe.” That sounds awfully high. Is that actually correct? — M.B., Dover

A: No. But if you re-read her column, you’ll notice that the question posed was “How much of the known universe is occupied by matter?” It was not “What portion of the mass of the universe is made up of familiar [atomic] matter?”

Ms. Savant simply asked and answered her own question about the composition of the mass of the universe, not responding to the original question that was asked about the proportion of mass to space.

I too noticed the column and engaged in an exchange of emails with Ms. Savant’s representative, resulting in Ms. Savant’s response on her website to me that “I liked my question more, so that’s what I answered!”

The answer to the original question is not 5 percent, but .000000000000000000004 percent of space is composed of matter. That only differs by a factor of about a sextillion.

Planetarium program

The Hoover-Price Planetarium is showing Solar Max through Feb. 24. This year the sun’s 11-year cycle is at its high point. What will the Earth experience, and what problems may loom for human technology?

Shows are at 1 p.m. Saturdays and 2 p.m. Sundays. The planetarium is included with admission to the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum. Call 330-455-7043 for more information.

David L. Richards is director of the Hoover-Price Planetarium at the McKinley Presidential Library and Museum, 800 McKinley Monument Drive NW, Canton, 44708, www.mckinleymuseum.org. He can be reached at 330-455-7043 or email hooverpriceplanetarium@hotmail.com.


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