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January Night Sky

Quadrantid Meteor shower peaks Jan. 3-4
By Larry Mahon
   Agate Ridge Observatory
   The powerful QUADRANTID Meteor shower, the shower with the year's shortest duration, will peak on the night of Jan. 3-4. This activity only lasts for 14 hours so the only viewing will be that night.
   The peak is predicted to occur at 11 p.m. our time. With dark skies you may see up to 100 meteors per hour. A waning crescent moon, rising at about 4 a.m. will not seriously interfere with the show.
   The only early evening planet this month is MARS. The planet is now in retrograde motion, drifting to the west in relation to the background stars, and rises earlier each evening. By the end of the month it will be half across the sky by 9 p.m. MARS is not difficult to spot high in the night sky because of its brightness and its definite red color.
   At the first of January, SATURN will begin its 2008 presence when it rises at about 9:20 p.m.. By the end of month, it will peak over the horizon a couple of hours earlier. On Jan. 24, the moon, two days past full, will pass very close to SATURN in the constellation LEO. The sky will be very bright but we should be able to see the planet to the left of the moon.
   A few weeks ago I gave a presentation on telescopes to a group of Scouts in Madras. I began by asking the question "What is the purpose of a telescope?" Answer: magnification and light gathering. In astronomy, light gathering is the most important. A pair of binoculars with a 50 mm lens gathers over 12 times as much light as your eye receives and a 4-inch telescope collects over 50 times as much.
   Think how much easier it would be to see dim objects if your eye was 12 or 50 times larger. You may not see thousands of objects in the night sky with only binoculars or a small telescope but there are hundreds that you can see.
   Seeing SATURN, JUPITER with its moons, The flaming sword of ORION, The great galaxy in ANDROMEDA or the MOON in its many phases, all of these can be very exciting.
   Nearly all the sights that I mention in the monthly night sky are visible with binoculars or small telescopes or the unaided eye alone.
   Telescope Night
   Did you receive a "Christmas Telescope?" The M.A.C. Astronomers are having a Telescope Clinic on Thursday, Jan. 17, at 7:15 p.m., in the library's Rodriguez Annex.
   Bring your telescope, or Dads old one, to the clinic and learn to align the finder scope and set up the mount to make the best use of your equipment. There will also be printouts and hints on viewing the night sky. Everyone is welcome. Happy New Year.