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Faint comet Machholz may peep through

Look for the new comet Machholz on Friday evening, two degrees to the west of the Pleiades. It may not get bright enough, even under dark skies, to see it without a telescope. It will appear as a small fuzz ball in binoculars.

It is hard to tell at this time whether you will be able to see a tail. The darker the sky the better the opportunity. Once you spot it try tracking across the sky from night to night.

Saturn will rise in the east at sunset, be at its highest in the south at midnight and set with the rising sun. The rings are nicely displayed in even a small telescope. The Huygens spacecraft will descend into the atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, on Jan 14. After dusk, Saturn is near the moon in the east-northeast on Jan. 23 and 24. This month will be the best time to view Saturn this year.

Jupiter rises in the east around midnight and will easily be the brightest "star" in the evening sky. It will be highest in the south before sunrise. Look an hour before sunrise to find it paired with the moon on Monday and Tuesday. Jupiter is magnificent in a telescope with the light and dark bands on its surface and its four largest moons orbiting about it like a miniature solar system.

Venus and Mercury are very close to each other, low to the southeast horizon before the first light of dawn the first three weeks of the month. The earlier in the month you look, the better. Venus is easily the brighter of the two. They will be closest on the morning of Jan. 13. Binoculars will be useful to see both.

The crescent moon, Mars and the star Antares form a trinagle in the southeast before dawn Friday, with Antares being the brighter.

The first week of January is your best chance to see all five planets that are visible without telescopic or other assistance at one time. Get up a half-hour or so before dawn to see Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, Mercury and Venus all lined up along the ecliptic _ the path the planets take along the sky. All the planets will cover an arc of 145 degrees.

Daryl L. Schrader is an astronomy and mathematics professor at St. Petersburg College and teaches astronomy at the University of South Florida.

The comet Machholz is to the right of the Pleiades on Friday. You may need binoculars to see it as a fuzz ball.

Three planets can be seen above the southeast horizon an hour before sunrise. Venus and Mercury are less than a degree apart.