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Jupiter and its moons worth staying up for

FREIDL HALE
Last updated 10:14 30/12/2013

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A view of the southern sky in January.

This month Venus is moving from our evening sky to our morning sky where she will eventually shine brightly before dawn until October. She will pass around the near side of the Sun in the very wee hours of January 12.

Meanwhile, I hope you have been enjoying Jupiter, and, if you have a good pair of binoculars, perhaps you have been tracking its four Galilean moons. Summer is a good time for a project like that because it is warmer outside, but you have to stay up later to do it, to get the really dark sky. In our faster inner orbit we will be passing Jupiter on January 6 for our closest approach this year.

Mars rises in the east around 1:30am at the beginning of the month, and is joined about an hour and a half later by Saturn.

The moon will be new on January 2, just after midnight (on the night of January 1) and at its fullest around 6pm on January 12. Kohi-tatea, the time when we eat the ripe summer fruits, is the 8th month in the Maori lunar calendar.

It's hard to believe that Earth is already heading toward winter, but the number of hours of daylight has begun to shorten. The Sun will move a little lower in the northern sky every day until it passes over the equator into the northern hemisphere on the March equinox.

And what of Comet ISON? "RIP, Comet ISON?" "COMET ISON LIVES" Consecutive confusing headlines from SpaceWeather.com. An approximately kilometre-wide lump of primordial ices that formed as part of the Solar System about 4 1/2 billion years ago, all but disappeared last month as the bulk of it succumbed to the Sun's tremendous mass, gravity, and heat. A mere shadow of its former self, a thin cloud of its remains continued out from its too-close encounter with the Sun, and, before disappearing completely, appeared to follow its predicted path back to the outer reaches of the Solar System.

The night sky update is brief this month, as I am away, spending the holidays in the North Island with family. I hope that, wherever you are, you will be enjoying time with family and friends.

■ If you have a question or would like to receive or share information, please write to me at PO Box 152, Lake Tekapo 7945, or contact me by email: stars@tekapostarlight.co.nz.

Clear skies at night,
Freidl Hale at Tekapo Starlight

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- The Timaru Herald

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