Gateway to the Stars January 2019

Posted January 2, 2019 - by Nick Jarvis

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Gateway to the Stars is our monthly tour of stargazing sights and astro-news, hosted by Nick Jarvis and illustrated with high-resolution images in our digital dome theater. 

This month, we'll be treated to a lunar eclipse on the evening of January 20th. North America has pretty much front-row seats for this one, so we'll preview exactly what we'll see from Salt Lake City and explore the eclipse from other perspectives on Earth and in space. Eclipses are essentially pretty straightforward - Body A casts a shadow on Body B; however, describing them in detail sometimes brings out some astro-jargon. You may see news stories talking about BloodMoons/ Supermoons/ Umbras/ Penumbras/ Contacts/ etc. In our show, we'll be able to illustrate those terms and how they're related to what's actually happening.

Animation of the Moon passing through Earth's shadow.
Map of New Horizons' trek to the outer solar system. (Credit: Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory)

​​We'll also check-in this month on our growing fleet of interplanetary explorers. Mars now has an impressive network of orbiting and surface probes, and we'll also be getting news from the New Horizons spacecraft (which we'll recall made the historic first flyby of Pluto back in the far away land of July 2015) as it continues its chilly journey to the edge of the solar system. After the Pluto encounter, it was steered toward the small Kuiper-Belt Object 2014 MU-69 (or "Ultima Thule" as it's thus far been known) which it will meet on January 1st, so we'll hopefully have some preliminary findings and images to share. 

Map of New Horizons' trek to the outer solar system.
Animation of the Moon passing through Earth's shadow. Times are given in UTC, which is seven hours ahead of MST. (Credit: Tomruen)

​Also in sky news, we'll catch up with the lovely, luminous Venus, which is easily the standout feature of the morning sky. This month, Venus will reach its maximum elongation (i.e. widest angle of separation from the Sun) and will be soon joined by Jupiter, which has migrated over from the evening sky in the last several weeks. The winter sky also has a host of fascinating deep-sky objects, nebulae, galaxies, and star clusters that can be appreciated under a clear dark sky and make excellent targets of study for amateur and veteran stargazers. 

It takes a lot to convince us to get out the parkas and earmuffs and brave the cold nights; I think we can make it worthwhile!

Join us in the Hansen Dome Theatre on January 5th, 2019 at 6:45 PM for Gateway to the Stars. Tickets are $2 or free for planetarium members. Get your tickets now.