January 22nd, 2023, happens to be the date when the Lunar New Year starts, an international holiday celebrated in many Asian countries and globally by some two billion people. It’s also the date when two lovely celestial objects, the planets Venus and Saturn, appear very close together in the night sky. Actually, they’re so close, just 1/3 of one degree, it will be hard to distinguish them from one another! But the next night, the 23rd of January, these objects will diverge enough to make a very pretty sight, along with the waxing crescent moon at 5% illumination. That’s when Stellar Vista Observatory (SVO) will launch its new series of free public star parties for 2023! But let’s regress for a moment.
The lunar new year is based on the moon’s 12 phases, each lasting about 29 days. Like in western countries, celebrating the new year represents a letting go of the past to welcome the new with fresh hope for desired experiences in life such as peace, abundance, or prosperity. In the Asian custom, the cycle resumes every twelve years with different animals representing each year. Believers say those born in a given year will carry some aspect of the behavior of the animal representing that year. 2023 is the year of the rabbit whose qualities could be seen as caring, attentive to detail, and friendly.
Ok, so let’s get back to the starry skies of southern Utah.
SVO’s 2023 schedule of free star parties in the Kanab area will feature monthly opportunities for the public to enjoy those beautiful and interesting phenomena when two or more bright celestial objects are seen very close to one another in the night sky. These can occur several times each month between the moon, the planets and certain star clusters that are located along the ecliptic, the path across the sky traveled by the sun and planets. Two terms are used in astronomy describe these phenomena: conjunction and appulse.
On a very informative website called, In-The-Sky.org, editor Dominic Ford describes them this way: “A conjunction is an event when two or more astronomical bodies share the same right ascension. In common parlance, the term is often also used to refer to any close groupings of objects. However, the technical term for such groupings is an appulse, which may or may not also be a conjunction.”
The apparent closeness of planets to each other and to the moon can add a pleasing and memorable feature to our experience of the night sky. Keep in mind that these close groupings are “apparent”, because the positions of celestial objects are actually separated by astronomical distances due to their individual orbits.
SVO’s first public star party for the year 2023 takes place Monday, January 23, beginning at 6:30 pm, when, from an earthly perspective, Venus and Saturn are separated by less than 4 degrees, and slowly setting from an altitude of 11 degrees above the western horizon. Going eastward along the ecliptic, Jupiter and Mars are also visible. For your enjoyment, telescopes will be set up at the Jackson Flat Reservoir boat launch parking area where restroom facilities are available. Watch our website at this link https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/news/ for information about SVO’s future observing events, or if you suspect a weather related cancellation may occur. Dress warmly!
Stellar Vista Observatory is a 501c3 nonprofit organization based in Kanab, Utah, working to create a public educational astronomical observatory in Kane County. To get involved, contact us at https://stellarvistaobservatory.org/contact-us/