Sky Watch

I'm a naked eye astronomer, as were all astronomers before the invention of the telescope, four centuries ago. I love to watch the sky at night, observing the slow dance of the planets amongst the stars.

Today we get only a dim glimpse of what earlier peoples must have seen in skies free from dust pollution and, in urban areas, from the light pollution that bleaches out all but the moon and brightest stars.

Here are some things you can see in the evening sky, after sunset, as the never-repeating, never-ending, cosmic dance continues.

Planet Positions:
(Unless stated otherwise, positions are for the evening sky.)

Mercury is usually hard to see because its stays close to the sun. It orbits the sun once every 88 days, and so alternates between evening sky and morning sky approximately every 6 weeks. It greets the four other visible planets together in the morning sky of late Jan. A line of Mercury, Venus, Saturn, Mars, Jupiter.

Venus is high in the morning sky early 2016. Indeed at the beginning of the year there are no planets in the evening sky. They are all together in the East in the pre-dawn sky.

Mars early 2016 is in the morning sky, rising earlier and earlier throughout the Spring, reappearing in evening sky and at its brightest high above in May.

Jupiter is also in the morning sky - see above - but highest of them all, and reappears in evening sky in early Spring.

Saturn is low in the morning sky.

Sky at a glance for current week.

NASA Solar System Simulator for a view of the planets and their moons at any time, and almost any angle.

Animated orrery Beautiful bird's view of solar system.

Meteor Showers

Quadrantids. Maximum at January 3-4
Lyrids. Maximum at April 21/22
Eta Aquirids. Maximum at May 5/6
Delta Aquarids. Maximums at July 29 (S hemisphere) and August 13 (N hemisphere)
Perseids. One of best meteor showers of the year. Maximums nights of 11-12 August.
Orionids. Maximum 21 October.
Leonids. Maximum 17-18 November.
Geminids. Maximum 13-14 December.

The Ecliptic
For spotting planets, and following their motion, it is helpful to know where the ecliptic is. The ecliptic is the imaginary line stretching across the sky, along which the sun, moon and planets all appear to move. If, for example, the sun has just set, and the moon is up high, then the ecliptic is the line from the sun (somewhere just over the horizon) through the moon and beyond to the opposite horizon. The planets will also be not far from that line. Or, if you can see two planets, but no moon, the line through the two planets defines the ecliptic. It doesn't take long to get to know where the ecliptic lies, and roughly where to look for planets.

The twelve Zodiacal constellations (Taurus, Pisces, Gemini, etc.) also lie on the ecliptic -- they are the constellations the planets pass through.