Deane Morrison, University of Minnesota
Earth reaches aphelion — its farthest point from the sun — on Friday, July 6, when we’ll be 94.5 million miles from our parent star. But while giving the sun a wide berth, Earth cozies up to Mars in spectacular fashion. And, like a series of opening acts, other solar system bodies present a parade of celestial pairings. As the spring constellation Leo dives toward the sunset, the lion’s bright heart, Regulus, slips by Venus. On July 9, the star passes just one degree — two moon widths — from the planet.
Neither the Big Dipper nor the Little Dipper holds much water after nightfall in June; the Little Dipper stands on its handle while the Big Dipper hangs down by its handle.
All during May, Venus and Jupiter dominate the early evening from opposite sides of the sky.
April opens with Mars and Saturn paired in the predawn sky.
With two full moons and the spring equinox, what's not to love about March?
With a new moon on the 15th, February's darkest skies come in mid-month. Use the moonless evenings to enjoy the bright winter constellations, which dominate the southern sky after nightfall. Grab a star chart and look low in the south for lovely Sirius, the brightest of stars. It radiates from Canis Major, the big dog, and can be imagined as a jewel in the dog's collar. Sirius — also called the Dog Star — owes its status to its proximity. Not quite nine light-years away, it's one of our closest neighbors.
January starts and ends with full "supermoons" – one on New Year's Day and one on the 31st. On New Year's Day we get the closest full moon of the year – a mere 221,700 miles away. Perfect fullness comes at 8:24 p.m. – less than five hours after both moonrise and perigee, the moon's closest approach to Earth in a lunar cycle. In other words, 2018 starts with a rising moon that scores way up on the size, brightness and roundness scales. During the night of Jan. 1 and 2, it travels the sky in Gemini.
December wastes no time in giving us its best gift: a supermoon.
The Milky Way arches high across the mid-evening sky from east to west in November. At its eastern end, winter constellations Orion, the hunter; the Gemini twins; Taurus, the bull; and Auriga, the charioteer, enter the sky. At its western end, the Summer Triangle of bright stars wheels toward the horizon. Face north to see scraggly Perseus just to the right of M-shaped Cassiopeia. Below them the Little Dipper hangs from its anchor — Polaris, the North Star — and the Big Dipper hugs the horizon.
October is known for its clear, crisp weather, so let's hope the pattern holds. Mars joined Venus in the morning sky about a month ago. The red planet is climbing as Earth starts to catch up to it in the orbital race, while Venus is slowly dropping as it gets ready to sail behind the sun. On Oct. 5, the planets slip by each other, coming within half a moon's width. Look low in the east about an hour before sunrise; Venus will be the slightly higher and brighter object.