Treats for new watchers

January 19, 2018

Did you get a telescope like this for Christmas?

Did you get a telescope for Christmas? Lucky you!

The new year in Australia is great for skygazers. Our skies are full of bright stars, prominent constellations and fascinating celestial sights. Lots of budding astronomers get their start in January using telescopes they got for Christmas.

While it is true that many have been hooked on skywatching for life by viewing the wonders of the night sky through their first scope, it is also true that many others have had their initial enthusiasm for astronomy dampened, particularly if they didn’t know how to properly use it.

Wow, with so many inviting targets overhead, what can you expect to see in your new telescope? Well, the moon of course is one object that never fails to impress. In mid-January, the moon provides even the basic amateur with a perfect target.

Just make sure you’re away from lights.

A telescope can keep you busy on the moon forever. I’m living proof of that.

If you’ve got a camera in your smart phone, hold it up close to the eyepiece, move it around until you see the moon’s disc and click.

You might get a neat photo out of it.

Get set for a few months of sky gems.

Not only do we have the best night skies in the world, but we’re also going to be treated to a few sights that will give the whole family a buzz.

One in particular nobody alive has ever seen before.

First up, look for Mars and Jupiter paired together in the east just before dawn.

Saturn returned to the morning sky at the start of the month and will continue to move higher in the eastern sky.

We’re being treated to a nice meteor shower called the Eta Carinids which is active until January 27.

Orion the hunter is now high in the north-eastern sky and easily located by the three bright stars that form his belt. In Australia, we recognise the belt as the base of the Saucepan.

Now, get ready for this — January 31 will feature a very rare celestial occurrence as a blue moon coincides with a full supermoon. A total lunar eclipse will also be visible for our part of the world on the night of the super blue moon. As the moon passes directly through the Earth’s shadow, the moon will turn cherry red.

No living person has ever seen all this together. The last one occurred back in March 1866 and you won’t get another chance to see it again until December 31, 2028.

Early risers will be greeted with a planetary alignment in early March as Jupiter, Mars and Saturn appear in a line each morning before dawn.

And as a giant bonus in July, Mars will be the closest it’s been to Earth since 2003, allowing stargazers to see its surface markings and the white polar caps. Stay tuned.

David Reneke is a feature writer for Australasian Science magazine and a science correspondent for ABC and commercial radio. Get David’s free astronomy newsletter at www.davidreneke.com

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