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President's Message: December
December brings the close of another year. Arguably, the astronomical highlight of 2017 was August’s Great American Eclipse. What celestial events will 2018 bring? To find out, I perused the “Sky Month by Month” section of the RASC Observer’s Handbook 2018.
First the bad news. There will be 5 eclipses in 2018 – two total lunar and three partial solar. NONE will be visible from New England. The good news, especially if you’re a Mars watcher, is that the Red Planet will have its most favorable opposition since the historic one of 2003. Around the time of opposition in late July, Mars will sport a disk over 24 arc-seconds across. The next opposition of this magnitude won’t occur until 2035.
If you enjoy watching shadow transits of Jupiter’s moons, 2018 promises a bounty of double shadow transits. A handful take place early in the year, but after Jupiter’s May 9 opposition things get busy. From late July to early September, double shadow transits occur with rapid-fire frequency.
To me, one of the more intriguing sky events of 2018 is a close (extremely close!) conjunction of Venus and Uranus on the evening of March 28. At their closest, the two planets will be separated by less than 10 arc-seconds! This planetary “double star” will be a challenge for two reasons. They will be very low in the western sky after sunset and the glare from Venus, 10,000 times brighter than Uranus, will be overpowering.
If you’ve never seen an asteroid, Vesta makes an extremely favorable appearance in June. At the time of opposition on the 19th, this brightest of all asteroids reaches magnitude 5.3 - an easy target for binoculars and certainly within naked eye visibility from dark-sky locations.
For those of you who like to kick back in a lawn chair and enjoy meteor-watching, this year’s Perseid shower, slated to peak on the evening of August 12-13, will take place under dark skies (a 2-day-old moon won’t interfere).
I close with best wishes to you, family, and friends for a joyous Holiday season. Merry Christmas, Happy Chanukah, and a cheerful, prosperous, and cloud-free New Year!
Glenn Chaple, President
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