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Sunday 21 January 2018  •   5 Rowan Moon 2018

Viewing the night sky in Rowan Moon 2018

17 January - 15 February 2018

Map of night sky at full moon: 31 January, 13:27 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Rowan Moon 2018

At full moon on 31 January, there is a total eclipse of the moon visible from North America, Asia, Australia, the Pacific and parts of Eastern Europe. From Eastern Europe and Western Asia, the moon rises during the eclipse. The umbral phase of the eclipse lasts from 11:48 to 15:11 UTC, and the total phase from 12:51 to 14:07.

The dwarf planet Ceres comes to opposition on 31 January, and then is actually closest to Earth on 1 Feb, 240 million kilometres, or 13.3 light minutes away (the sun is roughly 8.3 light minutes from Earth). Even now at its brightest, Ceres is only magnitude six, and too faint to see with the naked eye, but you should be able to find it with binoculars, in the northern part of Cancer, towards the tail of the Lynx, and see it move from night to night. Look for it on 31 Jan between Tau Cancri and RS Cancri.

Venus is on the far side of the sun; it has entered the evening part of the sky, but is still out of view in the twilight.

Mars and Jupiter are together in the morning sky, rising in the early hours, with Jupiter much the brighter of the two. During the course of the month, the planets pull apart, as Mars moves faster through the stars (and more slowly relative to the dawn). The moon is north of Jupiter on night of 7/8 Feb, and north of Mars on the morning of 9 Feb. On the morning of 12 February, Mars passes five degrees north of the red star Antares, the bright star of Scorpius.

Saturn climbs further into the eastern morning sky in the northern part of the constellation Sagittarius. By the end of the month, the ringed planet rises two or more hours before the sun, depending on your location. On the morning of 12 Feb, the old crescent moon is between Saturn and the horizon. Mercury may be visible in the eastern morning sky at the beginning of the lunar month, between Saturn and the sunrise.

At dark moon on 15 February there’s a partial eclipse of the sun visible from Antarctica and the south of South America. At Bahia Blanca, the eclipse lasts from 18:27 to 19:45 (21:27 to 22:45 UTC), and 11% of the sun is covered at maximum eclipse.

The month ahead: Ash Moon 2018

16 February - 17 March 2018

Map of night sky at full moon: 2 March, 00:51 UTC
Northern hemisphere perspective, aligned on the ecliptic. Morning sky to the left, evening to the right.

night sky map for Ash Moon 2018

Venus becomes visible in the evening sky in the second half of the lunar month, gradually pulling away from the sunset, more easily seen from Earth’s northern hemisphere, where, by the end of the month, it shines obviously in the darkening west.

Mercury reaches 18.4° east of the sun in the western evening sky on 15 March. It isn’t a particularly wide elongation, but it gives sky watchers in the northern hemisphere an excellent chance to see the elusive planet in the evening sky, with Venus nearby. The view from the southern hemisphere is poor.

Saturn, Mars and Jupiter are in the morning sky, in that order out from the sunrise. Saturn is in the northern part of Sagittarius, Mars is in Ophiuchus and Jupiter is among the stars of Libra. At the start of the lunar month, Mars is noticeably dimmer than the other two. It moves faster through the stars than the more distant planets, and during the course of the month draws nearer to Saturn. It also brightens as it comes closer to Earth, and by the end of the month, it is as bright as Saturn, and is with it in Sagittarius.

Mid-month, Jupiter rises around midnight, with Mars and Saturn following in the early hours. On the night of 6/7 March the moon is near Jupiter. The moon is near Mars on the morning of 10 March. The moon is near Saturn on the morning of 11 March. On 9 March, Jupiter halts its slow eastward movement through the stars of Libra, and heads back westwards, as Earth comes round in its orbit towards Jupiter, moving faster than Jupiter. It is as if we were in a fast-moving train, seeing a slower train some way away, appear to go backwards against a distant hill.

William Morris
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