Saturday, January 02, 2010

Seeds of contemplation

Some folks spend the winter curled up in a comfy chair with the Burpee seed catalog, anticipating the veggies and blossoms that will come with summer. I eagerly await my Astronomical Calendar from Guy Ottewell so I can anticipate a year's worth of celestial harvests.

The year begins with Mars on show. The planet reaches opposition on January 29; that is, the Earth overtakes Mars in our separate orbits around the Sun, which brings the two planets as close as they've been since the last opposition two years ago. Red Mars shines high in the sky all night long at magnitude -1. As we overtake, Mars seems to reverse direction and move backwards in the sky, from Leo to Cancer.

The full Moon rises on the same day, January 29, within hours of the time the Moon makes its closest approach to the Earth for 2010. We'll be waiting for its big golden disk to peek over the sea horizon.

January offers one of the best opportunities of the year for new Moon spotting. On the 16th it rises just 39 hours old, eyelash thin. If clouds preclude that observation, February serves up a 44-hour-old Moon, and March a virtually impossible to see 26-hour-old wisp of light. Never mind; we'll catch that March Moon the next evening at a still satisfying 50.

This year's total solar eclipse occurs on July 11 in the South Pacific. Folks will be packed onto Easter Island for that one, but I'll take a pass. Instead, I hope to be here on my own little island on December 21, when North America will have ringside seats for a total eclipse of the Moon.

Guy's nifty graphics keep us posted on the morning and evening dances of Venus, Mercury and the Moon, with Jupiter and Saturn occasionally thrown in for cheap thrills. In early August, for example, Mars, Venus and Saturn have a nice little menage a trois in the evening sky.

And so it goes, every evening offering some sort of delight, with Guy Ottewell and his collaborators as my guides.