Here comes another year with plenty of amazing sights for the cosmic tourist in this great northern land of ice and snow. Now if the weather would cooperate, we would be rocking!
January appears to be an action-packed month of viewing, including some old familiar sights. For example, Venus is making a comeback and can be found in the southwestern evening sky.
Next to the sun and moon, Venus is the brightest point of light in the sky. It is so bright that it is often mistaken for a plane coming in on final approach.
Venus makes for a fine observing target as it can be seen in binoculars and the most humble of telescopes. A small telescope will show which phase it is in, and other than that, it does not reveal many secrets.
However, if you prefer photography, Venus is so bright it can be easily photographed even with a compact digital camera.
For example, on January 25and 26in the evening sky you have a crescent moon and Venus only seven degrees apart. With a nice fence or farmhouse, you have all the makings of a great picture.
Experiment with leaving your shutter open a little longer and you should be able to capture moonshine, which enhances any picture.
Mars is now also in our night skies, rising off the eastern evening sky around 10 p.m., depending on your location of your observing sight. In appearance Mars is a small reddish orb. Little or no detail is visible yet, but as Mars makes its closest approach to Earth on March 5, more and more detail will be seen.
Mars is the only planet in the solar system that you can see planetary detail. Huge valleys, mountain ranges, a volcano and planet-wide dust storms are visible in a telescope of medium aperture.
This is why Mars is such a big deal to amateur astronomers. You get to explore another planet and see real-time events like the giant planet wide dust storms – how awesome is that!
Off the southern horizon brilliant Jupiter rises in the evening hours and presents anyone with binoculars, spotting scope or telescope endless hours of planetary sightseeing.
Spend enough time at the eyepiece of a telescope and you will see the moons dancing around the planet and those ever fascinating, always changing cloud belts.
When it comes to photography Jupiter is similar to Venus because of its brightness.
One of my favourite sights is when one or two of Jupiter’s moons pass in front of it, leaving a shadow that cruises across the cloud tops of the planet for up to 20 minutes or so. To view this you will need a good quality medium aperture telescope.
And now for everyone’sfavourite planet, that ringed gas giant, Saturn. Found in the predawn southeastern sky this planet is for viewing in a telescope.
To see the rings of Saturn all you need is a small telescope, but to see the intricate detail in the ring system you will require a larger telescope. When viewing Saturn with a medium aperture telescope you will also notice that there are cloud bands similar to Jupiter, just not as pronounced and not as plentiful.
That’s what is going on with the planets, and we haven’t even started on the nebula, star clusters and galaxies that absolutely fill those amazing Yukon night skies. Also, we have a couple of comets cruising through our skies, and we are even missing one.
Has anyone seen Comet Levy? So far this little comet has not made its scheduled rendezvous to our night skies.
Let’s keep an eye out for those incredible Northern Lights. We are coming up to the solar maximum and there is plenty of activity on the sun’s surface.
I have seen a half dozen displays in the last couple of weeks and only one was strong enough to produce spiral pillars, and even these were not overly brilliant or quick moving.
So little time and so many things to see. If the weather clears we are in for one crazy busy month, so dust off your binoculars or telescope and get ready for some great viewing (also known as photon absorption).
Take some time on a clear Saturday night and head up to the Grey Mountain Lookout Point.
James “Deep Sky” Cackette can be reached at [email protected]. See his photo adventures on Facebook at Yukon Night Skies.