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Our Sky in 2000

Astronomy and calendars came of age together. Most major natural calendar events are reflected in the sky. A year is of course one trip around the Sun. Spring [Mar 20th at 2:36 AM] starts the moment the Sun moves north of the Equator. Summer [June 20th at 9:49 PM] begins when the Sun reaches its northern limit. Returning, Fall [Sept 22nd at 12:29 PM] begins when the Sun moves south of the Equator. The cycle ends when Winter [Dec 21st at 8:39 AM] arrives with the Sun at its southernmost point. Oddly enough, Winter in the northern hemisphere is when the Sun is nearest the Earth [Jan 2] and Summer is when the Sun and Earth are farthest apart [July 3].

A month is the calendar's attempt to reconcile the Moon's period with the year (with some diddling by Julius and Augustus Caesar). This creates 12 or 13 lunar months in a given year with 13 New Moons in 2000. Our final New Moon of the year will be on Christmas. So with apologies to Clement Moore we won't have "the luster of daylight on objects below" when Santa next visits. The Moon will pass in front of several planets and some very bright stars this year but none of these occulations will be visible from our area. We will have two lunar eclipses visible in the area [Jan 20th 11:05 PM - Jan 21st 0:40 AM; July 16th 9:04 - 10:45 AM] . There will be no solar eclipses in the area this year.

Fast moving Mercury makes several appearances in the evening and morning skies. It never gets very far from the Sun, so it always appears before the sky really get very dark. It makes three appearances as both a morning [Jan-Feb, May-June, Sept-Oct] and an evening [Mar-Apr, July, and Nov-Dec] star. To find this bright but elusive planet look for a bright point of light near where the Sun rises or sets in the twilight.

Venus is very easy to find this year. Venus will be in the eastern morning sky until June. After a brief period hidden by the Sun, it returns as a western evening star for the rest of the year. It will passes Neptune [Feb 22] and Uranus [Mar 4] within a degree. It passes Mercury 3 times in the twilight hours [Mar 16, Apr 28, Sept 27]. Venus and Jupiter will pass within a 0.04° of each other the morning of May 17th. Venus will appear to be closer to than any of the Jupiter's moons!

Mars seems to be trying to keep as far away from Venus as possible this year. It will be a western evening star until June. After a brief period behind the Sun, it will reemerge as an eastern morning star in the east near the beginning of July. Mars will pass Jupiter and Saturn within 3 degrees in April. Mars will be a very difficult object to view this year because it will come close to the Earth until 2001.

Jupiter and Saturn play Alphonse and Gaston this year, each trying to have the other take the lead. This type of exchange is common with the inner planets but uncommon for the outer planets which move so slowly. On May 28th the exchange takes place with Saturn finally taking the lead after half a decade when Jupiter lead. These planets will be easily viewed in the evening sky until April. They'll move into the morning sky until the Fall when they will again grace the sky early enough to be seen before midnight.

The outer gas giants, Uranus and Neptune barely seem to move against the starry background. They will be well place to see from May until November. As with all sky objects (except the Moon) they will rise earlier throughout the year. Youngsters will probably get their best chance to see them later in the fall. Adults might want to see them earlier in the year but later in the evening. Pluto stays in the constellation Ophihuicus for the entire year. You'll need to use a large telescope to see these outer planets [I recommend the 16" telescope at Frosty Drew Observatory].

Leslie Coleman
Author:
Leslie Coleman
Entry Date:
Jan 1, 2000
Published Under:
Leslie Coleman's Columns
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