Happy New Year! This week on Looking Up you can get an early start on scanning the 2018 skies. Inconspicuous Mercury is in the pre dawn sky, and a full blown moon dominates tonight.
As you listen to the upcoming January episodes of Looking Up, you may find a common theme – stuff to look at in the early morning. Sometimes things just line up that way.
If you were up really, really late last night – Happy New Year, by the way – and were heading home shortly before dawn, you may have noticed a bright spot of light in the eastern sky, very near the horizon. If you did, you likely spotted the most elusive of the visible planets, the sneaky Mercury. Because it orbits so close to the Sun, Mercury is hard to spot, but today, and for the next few days, Mercury is as far from the Sun as it ever gets. So now is the time to look in the pre-dawn skies.
And tonight you may notice the really full moon. That’s because tonight’s full moon is the only full moon of 2018 that takes place when the moon is at perigee, meaning when it’s closest to Earth. You’ll hear news reports about it being a “super Moon” and that drives astronomers nuts. At perigee, the Moon is only a tiny bit bigger and brighter, and it doesn’t affect you in any special way. You can’t jump higher because of the gravity. In fact, your refrigerator has a greater gravitational pull on you than the Moon, so let’s just let this super moon stuff go, shall we? Wow, apparently it’s grumpy astronomer day too!
If you’d like to take a closer look at Mercury or the Moon or any of the other wonderful and amazing things in the sky, please visit csastro.org for a link to information on our monthly meetings and our free public star parties.