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What's Up in

SW Florida Skies

January 2023

Moon Phases December 2022 (Eastern Time Zone):

 06               14            21            28         

Full Moon      3Q          New          1Q

Planets: Aligned Across The Sky!

At the very start of this month, the five naked-eye-visible planets line up to show you the plane of the solar system across your early evening sky -- but we "lose" Mercury in only a few days as it zooms too close to the Sun in our sky to be able to still see it! After that, Venus shines brightly directly above where the sun set, just as the sky grows dark, low in the west-southwest. Then Saturn is dimmer, slightly higher and to the left as you face Venus, while Jupiter is crazy-bright and high up in the southwest after sunset, finally Mars shines very brightly over in the constellation Taurus, high in the east. A whole arc, showing you the solar system -- pretty and kind of special to see them in a single sweeping view!

On Friday, January 13, Mars ends its seeming "retrograde loop" and returns to "prograde" motion against the background stars from Earth's point of view. As it was last month, Mars is still really bright, because Earth has been physically as close to Mars as we get during our respective orbits; Earth is faster in its orbit than Mars is, so we have now "lapped" Mars, passing on the inside, which caused Mars to appear to move west-to-east against the background stars. That's called being in retrograde, and for the Earth-Mars system it only happens every 26 months. Why is Earth faster? Since we are farther down the Sun's "gravity well," we not only have a shorter orbit but we also have to move faster along it than Mars, which has a roomier 1.5 times our orbital radius. You can't notice Mars' retrograde motion just by looking at it once: it began on Oct 30, and continues through 12 January 2023, so to "see" it you have to notice where Mars is against the background stars on one night, the next night, and so on -- you will see that instead of heading on into Gemini, it has been backtracking deeper into Taurus, the direction from which it just came in September and October.


Comes the Comet ("E3")

A "new" comet has come to the inner solar system, and it is green. Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) will reach perihelion on Jan. 12, and can be seen from about 10 pm, low in the north-northeast, then progressively higher - 30 degrees above the NE horizon at midnight, then circling the north (peaking at nearly 50 degrees above N horizon about 3 am in early-to-mid-January) to set in the NNW. It was discovered last March, when it "turned on" (started to lose ice into a gaseous tail) inside the orbit of Jupiter. By late January it will be less than 10 degrees above our northern horizon, so from the 10th through the 20th is really the best time to spot the green smudge of Comet "E3" in the north! You will need dark skies to see it without binoculars. An online search can show you where to look for your own date and time and location, but start here and adjust the date and time by clicking on them :-)  The comet is labeled in yellow and looks like a comet on the screen.


Look in the NNW just after dark to see that the Big Dipper is below the horizon just after sunset. This disappearance of the Big Dipper makes us a very unusual place in the USA - most places in the US, the Big Dipper never even touches the horizon, let alone disappearing completely for a few hours out of every 24. Not to worry, it will rise and be sitting on its handle in the NNE by 11 pm (and a little higher at that time, each night).

Taurus the Bull (with bright reddish Mars between the "V" of the bull's face and the "teensy dipper" of the Pleiades cluster), Orion the Hunter, Gemini (above Orion if you are looking south), Canis Major, Canis Minor, and Leo are giving the winter sky their usual wonderful show, with the addition of red Mars in Taurus.

Quadrantid Meteors

The Quadrantid meteor shower is active annually from 12 December to 12 January, producing its peak rate of meteors around January 4th, above your ENE horizon around 2 - 5 am. Since that's almost full moon, against the sky brightness, these meteors are not likely to be as dazzling as they otherwise might be. But if you see streaks coming from that general direction, you are probably seeing quadrantids!


At the Planetarium

The last Thursday of every January is NASA's Day of Remembrance, for all astronauts and others who have fallen in oursuit of space exploration. This year, that's Thursday, January 26th. Our planetarium show lineup features space exploration topics for that reason. Our special planetarium premiere for the evening of Wednesday, January 18th is "EXPLORE: The road to Mars"

Tickets are available by clicking on the link in the show poster, here.

We are doing live meteorite talks in the lobby of the planetarium a couple of times per week, and solar observing a couple of times per week, so check with the front desk at the nature center to find out what the special programming is for the date you plan on visiting!


The planetarium is  presenting mask-optional (because you are indoors with other people for about 45 minutes, you might want one, but it's up to you), planetarium shows 6 days/week at 12:15 pm and at 2:15 pm (plus an "extra show" at 3:30 pm on Sundays). Please check our Calendar for details. To ensure getting a seat (or the seat you want), please arrive fifteen minutes before the scheduled show time (in "season" especially). We do have two hand sanitizer stations in the lobby, and we thank you for helping us keep everyone safe by distancing, wearing your masks if you have reason to throughout the show and using the sanitizer upon entry. Thank you!


We show four different planetarium shows, two on odd-numbered days and the other two on even-numbered days, so that visitors can attend planetarium shows at 12:15 pm and at 2:15 pm two days in a row and never see the same shows twice.  We do a morning "sensory Sunday" show each month, usually on the first Sunday, for people with sensory challenges who want a kid-appropriate show with low volume and a bit more lighting in the planetarium (but please reserve your spot ahead of time for these as they can fill up). We also have at least one special planetarium evening show (sometimes with a talk, too) per month. These are fun and educational and usually related to what is going on that month in our SW Florida skies. Other times we may cover some cool topics in-depth.

This month's planetarium shows have descriptions posted in our calendar. Just click on the individual items for the relevant day in our Calendar to see a full description of the shows or events for that day. In 2021 we upgraded our surround-sound system, and coupled with our new-in-2020 laser-phosphor projector (Digitarium Lambda Plus) you get a "being there" full-surround video and audio experience with all of our shows.

Our friends at the SW Florida Astronomical Society's regular first-Thursday "Meetings with Speaker Series" are hybrid live and Zoom meetings for now (Zoom portion needs to be arranged in advance, see their website for contact info and updates: ). Some of the members are discovering that being able to attend SWFAS from anywhere in the world is actually pretty convenient!

To get a printable (black on white, saves ink) map of the night sky (note: N-S-E-W directions will only make sense if you hold the map overhead to look at it), visit the free download site of the AWESOME

To spot the International Space Station moving through your sky, try NASA's Spot The Station website! Or to add in the Hubble and various other bright satellites, you can try Sky & Telescope's Tracker page. Or Satflare, of course.

Visit the Planetarium for updates on all of our space-related wonders!  You can even rent the planetarium, for your own space-themed party, wedding, memorial service, meeting, meditation session, or other cosmic event. If you have guests who are immunocompromised, please don't forget the masks, though, whether regular or space-themed.


Hope to see you soon at the Center, 

– Heather Preston, Planetarium Director

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