January starts and ends with full “supermoons”—one on New Year’s Day and one on the 31st.
On New Year’s Day we get the closest full moon of the year. Perfect fullness comes at 8:24 p.m.—just four hours after moonrise and less than five hours after the moon reaches perigee, its closest approach to Earth in a lunar cycle. In other words, 2018 starts with a rising moon that scores way up on the size, brightness and roundness scales.
On Jan. 31, the moon reaches fullness at 7:27 a.m. It also undergoes a total lunar eclipse, which begins at 6:52 a.m., reaches deepest eclipse at 7:30 a.m. and ends at 8:08 a.m. Unfortunately, over the eastern part of the state this supermoon sets before or very shortly after the deepest eclipse. Still, the eclipse will deliver more than enough for a great early-morning show. This full moon also meets one definition of a “blue moon:” the second full moon in a calendar month.
The morning sky continues to outdo its evening counterpart in terms of planet watching. Early in the month, Saturn slips over the southeastern horizon and climbs higher every day. Jupiter begins the month high in the southeastern predawn sky, just to the lower left of Mars. On the 6th and 7th, watch brighter Jupiter climb past Mars, coming barely half a moon width from the red planet. On the 11th, a waning crescent moon visits the planets, which will then be about two degrees apart. Southeast of both planets, Scorpius and its gigantic red heart, Antares, are rising.
Another bright red star shines in the east after nightfall. That is Betelgeuse, at Orion’s northeast shoulder. Grab your binoculars and find the sword hanging from the three stars of Orion’s belt. The sword’s middle “star” is the Orion Nebula, an immense region of multicolored gas and dust clouds where young stars are forming at a breakneck pace.
The University of Minnesota offers public viewings of the night sky at its Duluth campus. For more information and viewing schedules, see the Marshall W. Alworth Planetarium at: d.umn.edu/planet. By Deane Morrison.