December 30, 2007
Comet 8P/Tuttle is expected to peak in visual magnitude 6.0 in late December and early January. The comet will reach Perigee (nearest Earth) on New Year’s Day and Perihelion (nearest the Sun) on 26 January. This is expected to be the best sighting and closest pass since Horace Tuttle re-discovered the comet in 1858. The path of this comet will take it south through Andromeda, Pisces and Cetus. It will glide by M33, the Triangulum galaxy, on 30 December. Since 8P/Tuttle will be only 25 million miles from Earth on 1 January it will sweep southward about 4 degrees per day.
While we’re discussing comets, be alert to the possibility of a second brightening and spike in the visual magnitude of Comet 17P/Holmes. Holmes had such an outburst during it’s apparition of 1892-93. This comet is currently drifting through eastern Perseus and will pass within 10 arcminutes of the bright variable star Algol on the night of 22 January.
Will a recently discovered asteroid impact Mars? The asteroid, which has been designated 2007 WD 5, was discovered in early November. Astronomers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory estimate this asteroid to be 150 feet across and currently predict a 1-in-25 (4%) chance that it will impact Mars early on the morning of 30 January, 2008. Likely the asteroid will miss the red planet by about 15,000 miles.
The Planets in January
Mercury will make it’s first appearance of 2008 in the evening skies of late January. Watch for Mercury about 30 minutes after sunset 10 degrees above the west-southwest horizon from January 19th-26th. The tiny planet reaches maximum eastern elongation 23 January.
Venus pre-dawn show continues, but it appears a bit lower in the sky each successive morning. January 4-6th the waning crescent Moon dances through Scorpius past Antares and Venus. Each morning Venus and Jupiter will draw “closer” to each other until the two brightest planets reach their nearest conjunction, less than a degree apart, on 1 February.
Mars continues to be visible nearly all night long being just past opposition and it’s nearest approach to Earth in mid-December. We’re moving away from the red planet now but observing will still be very good through the month of January. Look for it this month retrograde through Gemini and Taurus.
Jupiter starts January too low to be observable before dawn but will climb to meet Venus for a spectacular conjunction by month’s end. Look for it above the southeastern horizon in Scorpius before dawn.
Saturn is rising around 9pm as the new year begins. Best time to observe the ringed planet this month will be after midnight in constellation Leo.
Neptune will be difficult to see in the evening twilight this month. Catch Uranus quickly after sunset low in the southwest in Aquarius.
Earth reaches perihelion, closest to the Sun for 2008, at 23:50 UT (6:50pm EST) January 2nd
The latest sunrise of the year for the northern hemisphere occurs the morning of 5 January
New Moon 8 January First Quarter Moon 15 January
Full Moon 22 January Last Quarter Moon 30 January
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