Jane Houston Jones: What's Up for January. Jupiter at opposition. Venus at conjunction. A Juno mission update. And the Quadrantid meteor shower. Hello and welcome. I'm Jane Houston Jones from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The giant planet Jupiter puts on its best appearance in over a year this month. On January 5 it reaches opposition, when Jupiter, the Earth and the sun are in a straight line with the Earth in the middle. Jupiter's average distance from the Earth is 5.2 A U or 483 million miles. But at opposition it's only 4.2 A U or 391 million miles away.
NASA's Juno spacecraft flew by Earth in October to get the gravitational boost it would need in order to reach Jupiter in July 2016. Several Juno science instruments made observations during the approach to Earth, including the Advanced Stellar Compass, JunoCam and Waves. During the flyby, amateur radio operators around the world said 'hi' to Juno in Morse Code. And the spacecraft actually heard their greeting.
Jones: The only object brighter than Jupiter this month is Venus. This month Venus shines at magnitude minus 4 point 4, and it sets an hour after sunset. Through binoculars or telescopes you'll see an amazingly-thin crescent until the planet disappears at inferior conjunction, when Venus is directly between the Earth and the sun on January 11. Venus will return as the bright morning 'star' at dawn a week later.
Jones: The January Quadrantid meteor shower peaks on January third and fourth. The Quadrantids have a very sharp peak, which means the meteors are visible for only several hours near dawn, instead of several days. Look in the northeast, between and below the Big and Little Dippers and the bright star Arcturus. This shower isn't named for the modern constellation in which it appears, but for the constellation's original name: Quadrans Muralis. You can see the latest from the Juno mission and learn about all of NASA's missions at www.nasa.gov.
That's all for this month. I'm Jane Houston Jones.
Page Editor: Luis Espinoza