January: Venus brightens and gets higher - simply dazzling in the west after sunset. Watch it hover above the moon on the 29th. Don't bother with a telescope. Meanwhile, this week, on January 4, Earth is at perihelion: its nearest to the sun for all of 2009. Doesn't feel like it.
February: Venus attains greatest brilliancy. If no house lights interfere, look for your shadow by Venuslight. It's stark and alien against snow. This Goddess of Love will look awesome - in the original, not teenage sense of the word - when it closely meets the crescent moon on the 27th. It's the year's best conjunction.
March: Now Venus suddenly looks like a miniature crescent moon, if you check it out with steadily braced binoculars during twilight. Looks a bit weird. Through any telescope, Saturn is an ace target, now at its closest of the year. But it's spooky, too: Its rings are edgewise. Happens every 15 years. How to find it? Saturn's the "star" above the moon on the 10th.
April: The first week of April gives us the year's best look at the elusive planet Mercury. Not hard to see at all: It's the only star low in deepening western twilight, 40 minutes after sunset.
May: The moon again guides the casual skygazer to Saturn, on the 3rd. The curtain now rises in the predawn hours, where Venus in its new incarnation as Morning Star becomes dazzling. It's near both the moon and faintish orange Mars on the 21st.
June: Venus still lights up the hours before dawn, and dangles below the moon on the 19th. With daylight now at max, look for Earth's shadow: a dark blue-gray band hugging the horizon. This phenom, observed by almost nobody, goes by the fabulous name of twilight wedge. It's exactly opposite the sun at both sunrise and sunset.
July: Look for the Full Moon on the 6th and 7th to look unusually orange. It's an exceptionally low Full Moon - a true "honey moon." Great photo op as it rises at sunset. The 22nd brings the century's longest total solar eclipse. Too bad its path crosses India during the monsoon and China in its cloudy season.
August: The famous summer meteor shower happens the night of the 11th/12th. This year some will be washed out by a moon just five days past full. Best time to watch: After 1 a.m. Other nights, check out Jupiter, now at the year's closest and brightest. It's the night's brightest star.
September: Jupiter is up at nightfall and dominates the sky nearly all night long. As the very brightest "star," it's easy to find. Use a scope to see detail. This is the closest and brightest Jupiter since the century began.
October: On Halloween, point binoculars at bright orange Mars, high in the east. It's passing through the famous Beehive star cluster in Cancer. The combination looks gorgeous.
November: Mars remains in the Beehive on the 1st - a second chance for binocular-owners.
December: Don't miss the year's best meteors on the 13th, under ideal moonless skies. These "Geminids" get going soon after nightfall, and round out the year in grand style - with a meteor a minute.