2010ʼs Night Sky Odyssey

by Rod Kennedy

The arrival of 2010 has some interesting ironies associated with it. It seems we always look
back and smile at where we thought we would be by a certain date. For example, in the
1980ʼs a movie entitled “2010 Odyssey 2” (a sequel to Stanley Kubrickʼs 1968 film “2001 A
Space Odyssey”) predicted a joint American/Soviet manned mission to Jupiter. Today the
Soviet Union no longer exists and we are nowhere near ready to send a manned mission to
Jupiter. Even a manned mission to Mars is nothing more than a dream. Fortunately, both
Mars and Jupiter are visible to us in January, allowing us to take a telescopic journey to both
those far flung worlds.

Jupiter is easily located in the southwest just after sunset. Jupiter will be the most obvious
object in this part of the sky since the constellations of this area are composed of very dim
stars. Binoculars will reveal Jupiterʼs 4 largest moons, the Galilean moons, named for their
discoverer Galileo Galilei. A small telescope will reveal 2 dark bands in Jupiterʼs atmosphere.
A slightly larger telescope may reveal Jupiterʼs Great Red Spot, but only if it is on the side of
the planet facing Earth. Careful observation under dark skies will be necessary to pick out this
elusive storm.

Turning toward the East we find Mars rising around 6:30 PM. Mars will be easy to spot being a
bright reddish-orange color. However, donʼt confuse Mars with Betelgeuse which is higher in
the sky in the shoulder of Orion the Hunter. The best way to find Mars is to first locate Orionʼs
belt, and follow a line through the belt down toward the horizon to the brightest star in the
evening sky, Sirius. From Sirius move to the left to find Procyon and then on to reddish Mars.
Unlike Jupiter, Mars will not show as many surface features, even in a telescope. Occasionally
darker areas or the polar ice caps can be seen on the planetʼs disk but a 6 inch diameter
telescope or larger is needed to pick out these features.

For those who just want to gaze up at the beauty of the night sky the southeast is the best
place to look. This is where the bright stars of winter are slowly rising. The brightest stars of
winter form a large asterism known as the Winter Hexagon. The Winter Hexagon begins with
the bright star Sirius, proceeds up and to the left to Procyon, higher to Castor and Pollux in
Gemini, then on to the highest star Capella in Auriga. From Capella the lines proceed down to
Aldebaran in Taurus and finally to Rigel in Orion. The star Betelgeuse is roughly at the center
of the hexagon.

While 2010 may not be what science fiction writers of the 1950ʼs and ʼ60ʼs envisioned, we
continue to make great strides toward that vision. Although we donʼt have a lunar base and
are not on our way to Mars, we can still carry on a long distance conversation while walking
down the street. Think about it, Captain Kirkʼs communicator isnʼt too different from the cellular
phone most of us cary in our pocket. Yet when we look up at the night sky and dream, we are
no different from those visionary writers of a generation ago, or even from our ancient
ancestors. Will future generations still look up at the night sky in wonder and dream of distant
voyages? Only time will tell. Happy New Year fellow sky watchers.

Rod Kennedy is a technician at the Casper Planetarium. He can be reached at 307-577-0310 or rodk@tribcsp.com.

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