By: CLIVE JACKSON
Director of the Astronomical Observatory of Tavira and the Camera Obscura, specialising in education and public outreach.
WELCOME TO the January night sky. This month is named after the god Janus who had the ability to look forwards and backwards at the same time.
This ability could be useful at times to get a 360-degree view of the night sky. As we look forward into 2008 we must be aware that the springtime is traditional rainy season in this part of the world and this is when we have the least amount of clear skies.
Nevertheless we can take the opportunity to get up early, one hour before sunrise and look towards the southeast. There, low on the horizon, we can see two bright planets close to each other in the constellation of Sagittarius.
These are the planets Jupiter and Venus; their colour will be yellow and white, respectively. They will be at their closest by the end of the month when they will be just half a degree apart.
In the evening, high up in the south, the planet Mars is an unmistakable sight. In January Mars moves from Gemini into Taurus and now lies between the horns of the bull, a fitting place for the roman god of war.
On the night of January 19, the bright moon will be close to Mars. Around 10pm, low in the east, the planet Saturn can now be seen in the constellation of Leo. On January 24, the Moon will be close to this planet.
Through a telescope the rings of Saturn can be easily seen with a magnification of 50 times or more. The rings are getting more edge on to us now as Saturn moves along its 30-year orbit. And twice in this time the rings disappear for a few days in a small telescope.
In January, the Earth is at its Perihelion point in its orbit. This means that it is slightly closer to the Sun than average (1.5 percent). This is due to the elliptical shape of our orbit that helps to keep our northern winters very slightly less cold than they would otherwise be.
The Moon is New on January 8, First Quarter on January 15, Full on January 22 and Last Quarter on January 30.