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Starstruck

4 Sky Events This Week: Jovian Eclipses, First Meteor Shower of the Year, and More

Ring out the old year with disappearing moons—and ring in the new with a glowing comet and shooting stars.

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Jupiter's moon Ganymede dominates this illustration; the planet is in the background.


This week you can say so long to 2014 with two Jovian eclipses, and you can say hello to the New Year with a meteor shower and a fast brightening comet.

Jupiter eclipse. Slip out of the festivities late on Wednesday, December 31, and you'll be able to see Jupiter's largest moon, Ganymede, slowly enter the planet's shadow and then disappear from view.

Ganymede's vanishing act starts at 10:18 p.m. EST, and at 11 p.m. the neighboring moon Europa follows it into eclipse.

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This skychart show the location of Jupiter in the evening sky and a simulated telescope view of Ganymede and Europa just before they get eclipsed.


You can see both if you have steady binoculars, but a small telescope will give you the most gratifying views. (Read about a space probe that plans to observe Jupiter's moons up close.)

Moon and the Bull. After nightfall on Thursday, January 1, look for the waxing gibbous moon to be nestled in the constellation Taurus, the Bull, low in the southeastern sky.

Nearly straight above the moon is the jewel-like star cluster known as the Pleiades or Seven Sisters. The cluster is 400 light-years away, and to the naked eye, it looks like just a fuzzy grouping. But binoculars or a small telescope bring it into stunning focus.

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On New Year's Day the moon will nestle into the constellation Taurus, the Bull, next to the Hyades star cluster.


To the left of the moon will be the orange-hued, dying stellar giant Aldebaran as well as the distinctive, V-shaped Hyades star cluster.

New Year's shower. In the late night hours of Saturday, January 3, the first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, hits its peak. In dark locations, the peak is usually more than 60 shooting stars an hour. But this year the glare of the nearly full moon will wash out all but the brightest meteors.

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In this sky chart meteors radiate from the Quadrantids in the northeast evening sky.


The Quadrantids get their name from the obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, from which they appear to radiate out, in the northeast sky just off the Big Dipper's handle.

Give your eyes time to adjust to the dark when looking for meteors and look downstream from the demoted constellation, where you have the best chance to see a shooting star.

Comet Lovejoy and Orion. Comet Lovejoy (C/2014 Q2) continues to brighten in the first days of 2015, passing by the superbright star Rigel after nightfall on Sunday, January 4.

This blue-white stellar giant, which marks Orion's knee, is a wonderful guidepost for finding the comet, making it an easy target even for binoculars. Expect to see a tiny pinpoint of light surrounded by a large, hazy patch.

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Comet Lovejoy passes the bright blue star Rigel in the constellation Orion, the Hunter, in this sky chart.


Lovejoy should be about 10 degrees to the upper right of Rigel, about the width of your fist held at arm's length. But again, glare from the nearby moon may make spotting this icy visitor challenging.

Check out our Lovejoy viewer's guide for more information on catching a glimpse of the comet.

Happy hunting!

Follow Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, on Twitter, Facebook, and his website.

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