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Skywatch 2015
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Albany Clear Sky Clock

Skywatch Line scripts are written by members of the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers. They can be heard by calling 518-382-7890 ext. 229. Scripts are copyrighted and may not be reproduced without permission.

Call 518-382-7890 extension 229 to hear the current Skywatch Line

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, January 23, through Sunday, January 25, written by Alan French.

Having reached new this past Tuesday, a waxing crescent Moon will grace the evening sky. Look for the Moon in the southwest as darkness falls on Friday. It will set at 9:11 pm. By Saturday it will be higher and in the south southwest, setting at 10:22 pm. Sunday will find it still higher and farther toward the south. It sets at 11:32 pm Sunday.

Jupiter now rises at 6:08 pm and is well placed for observation late in the evening. Any telescope will show Jupiter’s four largest and brightest moons, and they are fascinating to watch. From our vantage point they cross in front of the planet and vanish behind it. Spotting a moon as it moves in front of the planet can be a challenge, but the shadows cast by the moons are inky black and visible in even a modest telescope.

If you’re willing to brave the cold, have a telescope, and the skies are clear, there is a rare triple shadow transit on the face of Jupiter early Saturday morning. For about 30 minutes you can see the shadows of three of Jupiter’s moons on the planet’s cloud tops. The next triple shadow transit visible here is not until March 20, 2032, so it might be worth braving the cold to see this unusual event.

Callisto’s shadow moves onto the planet at 10:11 pm on Friday, followed by Io’s shadow at 11:35 pm. The shadow of Europa moves onto to Jupiter at 1:28 am Saturday morning, making a total of three shadows. The triple shadow transit ends at 1:52 am when Io’s shadow moves off the planet.

If you want to try seeing the moons themselves crossing the planet, Io moves in front of Jupiter at 11:55 pm Friday, Callisto at 1:19 am Saturday, and Europa at 2:08 am Saturday. Their visibility depends on the contrast between the moon and the Jovian feature it is crossing. They are often easiest to spot as they first move in front of the planet.

If you are up early Sunday morning the International Space Station (ISS) will pass high across the sky. We see satellites when they are up in bright sunlight and we are down in the Earth’s shadow and the sky is still dark. Sometimes a satellite, like the ISS, will emerge from or move into the Earth’s shadow as it glides across the sky. During this nice pass of the ISS you can watch it move out of the Earth’s shadow and come into view as it moves into sunlight.

The ISS will move into sunlight as it approaches a position between the bottom of the Big Dipper’s bowl and the top of Leo’s head. Simply be watching the area of sky below and in front of the dipper’s bowl just before 5:45 am. After it appears, the ISS will travel below the Big Dipper. Its path will take it past bright reddish Arcturus and then down to the southeast horizon. It will vanish below the horizon just before 5:49 am.


This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 21st and Thursday, January 22nd written by Louis Suarato.

Venus and Mercury have a new companion in the west-southwestern sky Wednesday after sunset. A 3% illuminated, waxing crescent Moon, to the west of Venus, forms a triangle with the two innermost planets. Binoculars should help to locate Mercury, which will be lower on the horizon, 3 degrees below the Moon, and more difficult to see with the naked eye. A telescopic view will reveal Mercury to be a 25% illuminated crescent. The face of Venus is 93% illuminated. Thursday evening, the 8% illuminated, crescent Moon will be above Venus and Mercury, and reside 5 degrees to the west of Mars. A binocular or telescopic view of Mars will also show Neptune 1 degree to its lower right. Jupiter rises around 6:20 p.m. to the east of the constellation Leo. Before dawn on Friday, from 4:06 to 4:20 a.m., Jupiter's moon Callisto will cast its shadow on neighboring moon, Ganymede. Ganymede will dim by 1.4 magnitudes during this event, causing Ganymede to go from the brightest of the Galilean moons to the dimmest. Saturn rises at 3:11 a.m. Thursday above Scorpius. Before dawn, look below Saturn for Scorpius' brightest star, Antares.

By Wednesday night, Comet Lovejoy Q2 will have moved beyond the Pleiades star cluster into the constellation Aries. You'll find the comet about 4 degrees south of Aries' third magnitude star, 41 Arietis. Another comet, 15P/Finlay, has also been in the news. Comet Finlay has brightened considerably from 10th magnitude last December, to 7th magnitude. Discovered by William Henry Finlay on September 26, 1886, Comet Finlay orbits the Sun every 6.5 years. You can find Comet Finlay with binoculars about 13 degrees above Mars. It was former Dudley Observatory Director, Lewis Boss, who determined that Comet Finlay and Francesco de Vico's lost periodic comet of 1844 (54P/de Vico-Swift-NEAT), were not the same comet. Although there were some similarities in their orbits, it was Lewis' observations that determined these were two different comets.

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 19th and 20th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 4:51 PM; night falls at 6:31. Dawn begins at 5:41 AM, and ends with sunrise at 7:20.

Five planets grace the darkening sky. Venus is brightest, low in the Southwest. At magnitude – 3.9, it outshines everything else. Under high powers, it looks almost "full." Dimmer Mercury is about four degrees below Venus, and appears about one-third illuminated. Venus sets at 6:34 PM, Mercury at 6:21. The pair separates slowly, and also climbs higher in the evening sky.

Mars is higher in southwestern Aquarius, but dimmer than Venus or Mercury. Its height makes it easy to spot. Mars shares Aquarius with Neptune. Neptune is normally difficult to locate without a detailed sky chart, but tonight eighth magnitude Neptune is only about a quarter degree from Mars. Both fit in the same binocular or finder scope field. Neptune's blue-green color contrasts with Mars's rust hue. Both set at 7:56 PM.

Nightfall finds sixth magnitude Uranus in its usual spot in Pisces. Finder charts are available from astronomical media. It sets at 11:07 PM.

Comet Lovejoy is easily seen as a fourth magnitude blur in Aries. Capital District observers are routinely reporting sightings. Lovejoy is rapidly heading northward. These nights, it lies between 9 ½ and 10 ¾ degrees west of the Pleiades star cluster (M 45). Moving about two fields west in binoculars or finder scope should reveal a round hazy patch – that is Comet Lovejoy. There are no other deep sky objects in the area to confuse you. It is highest in the South 7:04 PM, and sets at 2:46 AM.

Jupiter rises in Leo at 6:26 PM, replacing Venus as brightest object in the sky. Binoculars and telescopes reveal the four Galilean moons. Telescopes also show the Great Red Spot (a giant storm on Jupiter) at 2:12 AM and 10:03 PM on Tuesday. Jupiter is highest at 1:28 AM and remains up the rest of the night.

Saturn rises at 3:11 AM and appears as an extra bright star in Scorpius' head. The creamy white color distinguishes it from the Scorpion's fixed stars. Saturn's ring system is always a treat in telescopes. Saturn also remains up the rest of the night.

With Comet Lovejoy in the significant constellation of Aries, lets take a look at it. The constellation is usually listed as first in the Zodiac. At the time of the Babylonians, Aries contained the Spring Equinox. It also was the constellation that began the Babylonian, Assyrian and Jewish calendars.

Aries is prominent in Greek mythology. Phrixos and Helle were threatened by their stepmother. Their deceased mother appeared with a golden fleeced ram, and urged her sons to ride its back and escape. They did; however Helle fell off the ram into the sea. The Hellespont is named after him. Phrixos safely made the crossing and landed in Kolchis, on the Black Sea. He sacrificed the ram to Zeus in thanksgiving and hung its fleece on a tree. This is the Golden Fleece of the Jason and Argonaut saga.

Clear Skies, Joe Slomka

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday January 16, through Sunday, January 18, written by Alan French.

I hope you were able to catch the close pairing of Venus and Mercury in the early evening sky last weekend. Saturday night, when they were closest, featured clear skies in our area. If you missed it, or would like to see them again and watch as Mercury moves away from Venus, they are still close and now a bit higher in the twilight sky.

Look for the pair around 5:15 pm. Venus will be bright and easy to spot, just a bit west of southwest and almost 11 degrees above the horizon. I found Mercury fairly easy to see by 5:15 and obvious by 5:25 pm. Look for it just over two degrees to the right of Venus and slightly closer to the horizon (a pinkie held at arm’s length spans one degree).

The distance between the pair is now increasing and Mercury is dropping lower relative to Venus. By Saturday night they’ll be over two and a half degrees apart, and by Sunday the separation will three and a half degrees.

Comet Lovejoy has been rapidly climbing higher in the evening sky. It is now at its brightest and obvious in binoculars, appearing as large hazy glow. Some people have reported it is faintly visible by eye. The comet is now well placed in the early evening. It will be due south and highest, and so at its best, at 7:32 pm on Friday, 7:23 pm on Saturday, and 7:14 pm on Sunday.

For the best view and your best chance of spotting it by eye, give your eyes some time to get used to the dark. Your eye’s pupil opens quickly, to admit more light, but there is also a chemical change that makes the retina much more sensitive. The biggest increase in sensitivity takes about 15 minutes, but improvement continues for 30 or 40 minutes.

If you look a little east of due south, high above the horizon, you should easily spot bright, reddish Aldebaran amongst a v-shaped pattern of fainter stars that outline the face of Taurus the Bull. On Friday Comet Lovejoy will be about one binocular field of view higher than Aldebaran and several binocular fields to the right (due south at 7:32 pm). Each following night the comet will be a few degrees higher and farther west (right) of Aldebaran.

Another landmark you can use to find the comet is the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a lovely star cluster that looks like a miniature dipper. It lies to the upper right of Aldebaran. On Friday night Comet Lovejoy will be to the lower right of the Pleiades. By Sunday it will to the right and slightly below the Pleiades. Scan about three binocular fields from the Pleiades to spot the fuzzy glow of Comet Lovejoy. Although photos show a nice tail, it has not generally been visible in binoculars.

If you have trouble spotting Lovejoy, you can find more information and a finder chart here

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This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 14th and Thursday, January 15th written by Louis Suarato.

The Venus, Mercury close encounter continues Wednesday night as the two innermost planets are 1.3 degrees apart. Look low over the west-southwestern horizon for the pair of planets. Mercury is at its greatest eastern elongation from the Sun at 19 degrees. Look to the upper left of the pair for Mars, in the constellation Aquarius, 18 degrees above Venus. Jupiter rises minutes before 7 p.m. between the constellations Cancer and Leo. The 32% illuminated, waning crescent Moon rises Thursday after 2 a.m. in Libra. Saturn follows, rising at 3:30 a.m. between Libra and Scorpius. Friday morning, awake before dawn to see Saturn 1.9 degrees to the south of the crescent Moon. It was 10 years ago Wednesday that the European Space Agency's Huygens probe soft-landed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan after being released from NASA's Cassini spacecraft. It is the most distant landing of any man-made craft. Early photos from Huygen's indicated drainage channels crossing a mainland into a sea.

Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) is now at 4th magnitude brightness as it travels alongside the constellation Taurus. Wednesday night, you can locate Comet Lovejoy approximately 17 degrees south, and 3 degrees below the Pleiades star cluster. The comet moves about 3 degrees per day, so look closer to the Pleiades' after Wednesday, as the comet sails to its right. If your skies are dark enough, you may be able to see Comet Lovejoy with the naked eye. A binocular view will reveal the comet's coma as a fuzzy circle, glowing from cyanogen and diatomic carbon, which glow green when sunlight passes through. Telescopes will unveil the comet's long tail.

The Five Rivers Environmental Education Center in Delmar is hosting a Winter Astronomy event Friday night, January 16th, beginning at 7:30 p.m., weather permitting. Center staff will provide a naked-eye overview of the winter sky and constellations. Members of the Albany Area Amateur Astronomers will provide a variety of telescopes for guests to view planets, deep sky objects and Comet Lovejoy! The program is free, but space is limited. Please call Five Rivers at 518-475-0291 to register by Wednesday, January 14. In the event of cloud cover, this program will be postponed. Dress warmly!

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January 12th and 13th written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 4:43 PM; night falls at 6:23. Dawn breaks at 5:43 AM and ends with sunrise at 7:24.

As the sky darkens, three planets appear in the southwest. Mars, while not brightest, is the easiest to see. The first magnitude planet becomes an obvious rust color moderately high. Mars sets at 7:50 PM.

Venus and Mercury form a tight duo very low on the horizon. Venus' -4 magnitude gives away its position; less brilliant Mercury is about one degree below Venus. Both appear gibbous. An unobstructed horizon and binoculars are required to find them. Both set by 6:15 PM.

By twilight's end, Neptune, in Aquarius, is easy to spot tonight. The blue-green planet lies only about five degrees above Mars; they appear in the same low power field of binoculars and telescopes. Uranus, in Pisces, is more difficult and requires a finder chart from magazines, websites or apps. Neptune sets about 8:30 PM; Uranus sets at 11:30 PM.

Comet Lovejoy is also visible after astronomical twilight. Now located in the tail of Taurus, the Bull, it's about five degrees away from the star E Tauri. The fourth magnitude comet is quite bright and, now that the Moon is absent, in prime position for binocular or telescopic viewing. Lovejoy is highest at about 8:10 PM and sets at 2:50 AM.

As Mars sets, Jupiter rises in Leo. Binoculars show some of the four Galilean Moons. Tuesday, at 1:27 AM and 9:19 PM, telescopes reveal the Great Red Spot (a storm larger than Earth) on Jupiter. The telescopic observer will witness the moon Io being eclipsed by Jupiter's shadow at 5:59 AM, Wednesday. It is highest at 2 AM, and sets during daylight.

Tuesday's Last Quarter Moon rises after Midnight in Virgo, two degrees from the bright star Spica.

Saturn rises at 3:36 AM and remains up the rest of the night. Saturn crosses Libra and is on its way to Scorpius. Any telescope reveals Saturn's glorious rings.

By nightfall, Orion is already high in the southeastern sky. The bright white star Rigel marks the mighty hunter's knee. A dim line of stars begins at Rigel and flows westward and downward until it disappears below the horizon. This is the river Eridanus. To see the full extent of this heavenly waterway, one must travel to Florida. There, Eridanus ends with the bright star Achernar, which literally means, "star at the river's end." The identity of this stream is a bit of a mystery. Ancient authors differ as to whether it refers to the Euphrates or Nile. Both rivers were revered from time immemorial. Both were the sources of water and bountiful harvests. It is no coincidence that all great civilizations were founded along the banks of great rivers. Ancients thought of Earth as sort of an island surrounded by a great body of water. The creation story in Genesis alludes to this view, as does Babylonian creation myths. The sky also bears out this vision. For several months we have observed water related constellations. Delphinus, the Dolphin, and Capricornus, the Sea Goat, began the procession, followed by Aquarius, Cetus and Pisces. Eridanus sustains this heavenly aquarium.

Clear Skies, Joe Slomka

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, January 9, through Sunday, January 11, written by Alan French.

This is a great weekend for sky watchers. We have a nice comet, easily visible in binoculars, and Venus and Mercury will be unusually close together in the evening twilight sky. Brilliant Venus will be a superb landmark for finding the elusive innermost planet. We’ll start with Venus and Mercury since you’ll need to look just after sunset.

The sky is dark enough to easily spot Venus by 5:00 pm. Look for Venus, the evening star, just a little west of southwest. At 5:00 pm on Friday Venus will be ten degrees above the horizon and fainter Mercury will be less than one degree to the lower right of Venus. (A fist held at arm’s length spans 10 degrees across the knuckles. A pinkie held at arm’s length spans one degree.)

Binoculars will improve your chances of spotting Mercury, especially if there are thin clouds or haze near the horizon. With clear skies you should be able to spot Mercury by eye, especially if you wait until the skies are bit darker – say around 5:15 pm. Buy don’t wait too long, Mercury sets at 6:04 pm and is likely to vanish behind distant trees or buildings well before then.

At 5:00 pm Saturday Venus will be a bit higher and Mercury just over one-half a degree away, still to the right and below Venus. This is the night they’ll be closest together. They’ll be slightly higher and a tad farther apart on Sunday, with Mercury to the right and just a little below Venus.

Comet Lovejoy has been easily spotted through binoculars even with a bright Moon in the sky and has been seen by eye before moonrise. This weekend the comet will be in Taurus, the Bull, and due south and highest at convenient times.

On Friday look for Lovejoy at 8:40 pm when it will be due south. It will be about as far above the horizon as the top of Orion, which you’ll find to its left. The comet will form a large, rough rectangle with Rigel, Betelgeuse, and Aldebaran. On Saturday the comet will be a bit higher and due south at 8:30 pm, and by Sunday it will be due south at 8:20 pm.

If you live where the skies are dark, simply look for a large fuzzy glow a bit more than half way to the zenith. Be sure to give your eyes some time, perhaps fifteen minutes, to adapt to darkness if you want a better chance to spot the comet by eye. (With the bitter cold, turn off the lights inside and allow your eyes to adapt to darkness before going outside.)

If you are unable to spot it by eye, try finding it with binoculars. Once you’ve found exactly where it is, try by eye again. Even if you can see it by eye, a binocular view will provide a better view, and may reveal part of its tail.

If you’re not having any luck spotting Comet Lovejoy, an Internet search will quickly turn up more information and sky charts showing its location.

This is the Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, January 7th and Thursday, January 8th written by Louis Suarato.

The innermost planets put on a show this week as Venus and Mercury shine above the southwest horizon after sunset. Wednesday, Venus and Mercury will be 1.1 degrees apart, and will be less than a degree apart on the 8th through the 12th. You can begin looking for the pair after sunset at 4:37 p.m. Wednesday. Venus sets at 6:02 p.m., providing you with about an hour and a half to locate the brighter of the two planets and its dimmer companion. Venus is at -3.34 magnitude at a distance of 1.595 astronomical units (AU) or 148,335,000 miles away. Mercury shines at magnitude -.65 and is 1.149 AU or 106,857,000 miles from Earth. Both planets are at gibbous phases. Venus is 95% illuminated and Mercury is 79% illuminated.

A bright 91% illuminated, waning gibbous Moon will rise at 8:21 p.m., affecting your ability to clearly view deep sky objects, so concentrate your attention to the larger and brighter targets. You'll find 1.1 magnitude Mars about 20 degrees above the southwestern horizon after Venus sets. Over in the east, rising south of the Moon, is -2.04 magnitude Jupiter. You'll be able to see all four Galilean moons Wednesday night. Io will be on one side, while Callisto will be closest to the gas giant on the other side and further away, very close together, are Europa and Ganymede. Thursday night, Jupiter will be 5 degrees to upper right of the Moon.

Other bright objects to observe while the light of the nearly full Moon fills the sky include the Great Orion Nebula or M42 in the constellation Orion, and the Pleiades star cluster above Orion in the constellation Taurus. Both are naked eye objects, but are better seen through binoculars. The Great Orion Nebula is even more magnificent through binoculars or a telescope. Try to view the tight cluster of stars in the heart of the Great Orion Nebula known as the Trapezium. The Trapezium consists of six stars, with four easily seen. The five brightest stars in the cluster are within 1.5 light years of each other and are responsible for the illumination of the surrounding dust and gases. The Pleiades star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters or M45, can be found to the right of Auriga's brightest star, Capella, and above Taurus' brightest star, Aldebaran. The Pleiades is one of the closest star clusters in the sky and its nebulosity enhances its appearance. Saturn, shining at magnitude .75, is a morning planet, rising at 4 a.m. Thursday in the constellation Libra. Saturn's ring tilt, relative to Earth, is 25 degrees.

This is the Skywatch Line for Monday and Tuesday, January fifth and sixth written by Joe Slomka.

The Sun sets at 4:35 PM; night falls at 6:17. Dawn breaks at 5:44 AM and ends with sunrise at 7:26.

The darkening sky reveals three bright planets. Mars is not the brightest, but the highest and most easily seen. It is moderately high in the southern sky. Mars sets at 7:54 PM.

Venus and Mercury are much brighter but lower on the southwestern horizon. Mercury is about six degrees high during twilight, while Venus is much brighter and seven degrees high. Venus is almost "full," while Mercury is gibbous. Notice their separation; during the next few days they come to within a full moon's width of each other. Both set by 6 PM.

The Moon, past full, rises during dusk, and remains up the rest of the night.

Nightfall reveals Neptune in Aquarius, while Uranus remains in Pisces. Neptune and Mars are about seven degrees apart; in two week's time, they too will have a close call – what astronomers name a quasi-conjunction.

Fifth magnitude Comet Lovejoy is being sighted with binoculars in the Capital District. Comet Lovejoy is currently in the constellation Eridanus, which forms a river of stars springing southwestward from Orion's star Rigel. The Full Moon may hinder observation, so start watching during twilight, before the Moon gets very high.

Jupiter rises in Leo at 7:28 PM, and is visible until sunrise. Telescopic observers can see Jupiter's Great Red Spot at 12:42 AM and 8:34 PM on Tuesday. At 4:05 AM Wednesday, the moon Io will be eclipsed by Jupiter's shadow, followed shortly thereafter by Callisto's shadow beginning to cross the giant planet's face.

Saturn, in Libra, rises at 4 AM, and slowly heads towards Scorpius.

Yesterday, January 4th, was the Christian feast of the Epiphany, otherwise known as "Three Kings Day." Who were these "kings?" Most likely they were Magi from the eastern empire of Babylon. Babylonians were famous for their astronomical skill. By 2000 BC, they identified all visible planets, the major constellations, the zodiac and the Saros cycle of eclipses. These priest-astrologers were very powerful and respected throughout the known world.

These dedicated sky watchers would certainly have noticed any new object or event in the night sky. While some think that a comet or supernova may have been the "Christmas Star." The prevailing opinion is that it may have been an astrological event: the most likely being at triple conjunction between Saturn and Jupiter during the year 7 BC. During the course of the year, Jupiter appears to: chase Saturn, catch up and pass it, turn around and pass Saturn again, and finally catch up with Saturn one more time before sailing eastward past it. This startling series of events took place in Pisces, a significant constellation. While we now know the planets to be worlds like Earth, to the ancients, stars and planets were messengers from the gods. When two planets, associated with the most powerful gods, keep meeting, the Magi knew something significant was about to happen. These scholars were also familiar with their neighbors. A search of Jewish lore provided the inspiration to set off for that distant land and a possible meeting with a new god-king.
Clear Skies, Joe Slomka

This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, January 2, through Sunday, January 4, written by Alan French.

The Moon will reach full on Sunday, January 4, so the night sky over the weekend will be dominated by a bright Moon. The Sun now sets just after 4:30 pm. On Friday the Moon rises at 2:51 pm, on Saturday at 3:41, and on Sunday at 4:34 pm, just as the Sun is setting.

Last weekend Venus set just over an hour after sunset. This weekend finds Venus setting almost 80 minutes after the Sun and it stands about seven degrees above the horizon at 5:05 pm. With a good clear view to the west southwest, free of clouds and haze, look for elusive Mercury, the innermost planet, below Venus. You may need binoculars to spot Mercury against the twilight glow. If so watch as the sky darkens and see if you spot it by eye before it gets too low to see.

On Friday night Mercury will be two and a half degrees below and slightly right of Venus, the distance between them will be just over two degrees on Saturday and just under two degrees on Sunday. Watch during the coming week as the pair moves higher into the evening sky and Mercury, moving faster, closes in on Venus. The pair will be closest together on the evening of January 10.

The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on Saturday night. Unfortunately the bright Moon will obscure all but the brightest meteors. The Quadrantids, although not as well know as the Perseids of August or Geminids of December, is a fairly prolific shower, although the duration of maximum activity is short.

If you are familiar with meteor showers you know they are named for the radiant – the area of the sky the trails of the shower members all point back towards. The Perseids radiate out of Perseus and the Geminids from Gemini, but you may be puzzling over the Quadrantids. This show is named for an obsolete constellation, Quadrans muralis, the mural quadrant, which used to occupy the northern part of Bootes. (A mural quadrant was a wall mounted instrument used to measure the positions of stars.)

About half of the modern constellations came to us through the Greeks, and were listed by Ptolemy in the second century. As navigators traveled to the southern hemisphere they added new constellations. When cartographers drew marvelous star atlases they added their own constellations. Things got a bit out of hand. In 1930 the International Astronomical Union adopted an official list of 88 constellations, the star patterns we know today.

Constellations like Quadrans muralis; Felis, the cat; Musca borealis, the Northern fly; Rangifer, the reindeer; and Triangulum minor, the little triangle; were declared extinct. But Quadrans muralis lives on thanks to the Quadrantid meteor shower.

The Dudley Observatory Skywatch Line for Wednesday, December 31st and Thursday, January 1st written by Louis Suarato

Start off your New Year's Eve by viewing a pair of planets just after sunset and a total of four planets before midnight. If you look low over the southwest horizon about 40 minutes after sunset, you should easily spot Venus. To the lower right of Venus, by about 3 degrees, you may be able to see Mercury. Binoculars should help if you can't see Mercury with the naked eye. As the sky darkens, look approximately 25 degrees to Venus' upper left for Mars in the constellation Capricornus. If you have a clear view of the southeastern horizon, you may be able to spot Comet Lovejoy C/2014 Q2 four degrees high at about 6 p.m. to the lower right of Rigel, the bright star below the belt of Orion. Comet Lovejoy Q2 is now shining at 5th magnitude. Jupiter rises a few minutes before 8 p.m. in the constellation Leo. Jupiter's moon, Ganymede, will be eclipsed at 10:22 p.m. followed by Europa's eclipse at 11:01. Io's shadow transit begins at 11:36 p.m., followed by Io's transit beginning at 15 minutes past midnight, leaving Callisto as the only Galilean moon.

If you're still awake celebrating the New Year, or an early riser, look to the east after 4:30 a.m. Thursday to see Saturn rise between the constellations Libra and Scorpius. The 89% illuminated, waxing gibbous Moon rises at 1:24 Thursday afternoon. The Moon will begin the cross the Hyades open star cluster around midnight.

On January 1, 1801, astronomer Giuseppe Piazzi, discovered the first, and largest, asteroid, Ceres. On December 1st, NASA's DAWN spacecraft took a photo of Ceres from a distance of 740,000 miles. DAWN will be captured into Ceres' orbit in March 2015 to deliver images of a much higher resolution. Ceres is currently too close to the Sun for observations from Earth.