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Astronomy news for the two weeks starting Friday, January 15, 2016.

The next skylights will appear January 29.

We begin as usual with the Moon, which on the night of Saturday, January 16, passes through its first quarter about the time of sunset in North America with the Moon high in the sky. The night before, on Friday the 15th, it will appear as a fat crescent, while after the 15th, the Moon runs through its waxing gibbous phase, which stops at full Moon on Saturday the 23rd, when it will appear down from Gemini's Pollux and Castor, the stars pointing more or less at it. We spend the remainder of the fortnight watching the waning gibbous phase, which does not terminate until Sunday the 31st.

As the Moon grows from the quarter, it approaches Aldebaran in Taurus. The night of Monday the 18th the Moon will be just to the west of the star, while the following night, that of Tuesday the 19th, sees it pass right over Aldebaran, occulting it. The time of the event depends on location. For the central US, the leading (eastern) edge of the Moon passes over the star around 8 PM CST, the star reappearing at the trailing edge a bit over an hour later, about 9 PM. The event occurs progressively later toward the east coast, earlier toward the west. Binoculars should provide a fine view. It's fun to see occulted stars wink suddenly in and out of sight, showing just how small the angular sizes really are. In the latter part of the fortnight, the Moon glides south of Leo. It will appear just below Regulus the night of Monday the 25th and will then make a fine passage below Jupiter the night of Wednesday the 27th as it heads towards Virgo.

Jupiter, dominating late evening skies, rises around 9:30 PM as our period begins, an hour earlier as it ends. Mars is next, coming up around 1 AM, and is followed by Saturn, which by the end of the month is up by 3 AM. Venus, rising later, brings up the rear just after 5 AM, the latter two planets and Antares making a nice triangle. Toward the end of January, even Mercury makes a brief appearance, by the end of our period coming up as dawn begins just behind Venus.

North of Orion look for the big pentagon that makes Auriga, the Charioteer, with its bright star Capella, the most northerly first magnitude star of the northern hemisphere Forty six degrees north of the celestial equator, Capella barely beats Deneb in Cygnus for the honor. The most southerly star is Acrux, Alpha Crucis, in the Southern Cross, which lies 63 degrees south of the equator. It's visible only south of 27 degrees north latitude. Southwest of Capella, which means the "She-Goat," is the narrow triangle that makes her "kids."
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