Were you lucky enough to get a telescope for the holidays? Perhaps you'd like to find something that's unusual this month to view with your telescope — whether it's brand new or an old classic. We'll look at a couple things coming up this month and then look ahead at upcoming events for 2015.

A comet discovered last summer is reaching eye visibility at the time of this writing (late December). Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) was discovered on Aug. 14 by Australian astronomer T. Lovejoy. Although it remains low for North American observers, it is brightening rapidly. A Google search will dig up finder charts for the comet. One particularly interesting one is an online chart at The chart updates the comet's current position in real time. Another good source for online charts is


As January opens, Comet Lovejoy will be passing by Rigel, Orion's knee, and then through Taurus. Although it is reaching naked eye visibility, a pair of binoculars would be handy for locating and viewing the comet.

Although the moon is an interesting telescopic target, new telescope owners cannot wait to move on to more exotic targets. Jupiter rises in the evening and by midnight is well placed for viewing. It is situated directly in front of the face of Leo as it leads the lion during the apparent nightly rotation of the stars overhead.

Jupiter's four bright "Galilean" satellites, its creamy bands, dusky belts and elusive red spot have been favorite telescopic targets for amateur astronomers since the time of Galileo. A good test of a telescope's optics is to observe the shadows of the Galilean moons, projected by the sun, as they cross across Jupiter's cloud tops. There are a couple of good weekend opportunities this month for observing multiple shadows at once, thanks to the website.

On Friday night, Jan. 16, the moons Io and Europa will cast double shadows between 10:53 and 11:58 p.m. Then early in the morning on Saturday, Jan. 24, moons Io, Europa and Callisto will cast triple shadows from 1:26 to 1:54 a.m. A telescope at moderate magnification on a steady mount will be beneficial for seeing these phenomena.

Like 2014 before it, 2015 will have two total lunar eclipses visible from Maryland. The first one is scheduled for Saturday, April 4. Unfortunately, the moon will be setting and the sun will be rising on the East Coast just as the total eclipse is preparing to get under way.

A better lunar eclipse for us occurs on Sunday night/Monday morning, Sept. 27-28. There will be no solar eclipses visible from Maryland this year.

A lunar occultation happens when the moon passes in front of a more distant body. The moon will occult the very bright star Aldebaran in Taurus on Sept. 5, and again on Nov. 26. During the afternoon of Dec. 7 the moon occults the planet Venus in broad daylight. Weather permitting, these events should be visible with the unaided eye.

There are also several close planetary conjunctions: Venus and Mars in February, Venus and Uranus low in the evening March sky, and Venus and Jupiter in July.

Also in July, NASA's New Horizons spacecraft finally reaches Pluto after a nine-year journey. The space vehicle was built in Maryland at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

These and other events will provide plenty to talk about and look forward to throughout 2015.

Curtis Roelle is a member of the Astronomical Society. His column appears the first Sunday of each month. His website is, and he can be reached at