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By Plotner T.

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No, just another normal aspect of the sky: a multiple planetary conjunction. Things don’t truly ‘‘line up’’ in space; they just form associations. If you’d like an example, look to the Moon tonight as the bright asteroid Vesta appears about a fist-width south. Around magnitude 6, this traveling treat is well within range of small binoculars and telescopes! Now turn your optics toward the lunar surface to learn more major landmarks. Identify Mare Serenitatis, and let’s take a closer look at what’s around it.

Tonight, journey two finger-widths northwest of Aldebaran (RA 04 21 57 Dec +19 32 07). R. Hind reported observing nebulosity, but noted no catalog position. His observation included an uncharted star, which he surmised was variable. On each count, Hind was right. The pair was studied for several years until they faded in 1861, and then disappeared altogether in 1868. E. W. Burnham re-discovered them, only to see them vanish 5 years later—not to return until the 20th century. Our mystery guests are Hind’s Variable Nebula ( NGC 1555), and its associated star— T Tauri —a prototype of a particular class of variables and totally unpredictable.

23a. M78 (credit—Palomar Observatory, courtesy of Caltech). 23b. ’’‘McNeil’s Nebula’’ (credit—Adam Block/ NOAO/AURA/NSF). January, 2009 33 Saturday, January 24 Today honor the 1882 birth of Harold Babcock , discoverer of the sunspot cycle, differential rotation, and the solar magnetic field. While you should NEVER look directly at the Sun, you can use binoculars or telescopes to see sunspots by using the ‘‘projection method’’—just as Gassendi did to observe the Mercury transit. Cover additional optics such as a finderscope or one binocular tube, and use the shadow to aim the circle of light onto a makeshift screen, focusing until the image is sharp and details appear.

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