Night sky guide for January 2015

Night sky guide for January 2015

As far as the meteor showers are concerned the year starts with an above average Quadrantids, unfortunately the nearly full moon will block out most of the show. Quadrantids will peak this year on the night of January 3rd and the morning of 4th.

Brilliant comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), the fifth comet discovered by Australian astronomer Terry Lovejoy, is expected to reach its brightest on January 10. It will make its closest approach to the Sun on January 30, at a distance of 1.29 AU.

  • January 2 - M41 is well placed for observation. The open star cluster M41 (NGC 2287) in Canis Major will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -20°43', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 49°N.

  • January 3, 4 - Quadrantids meteor shower. The Quadrantids are thought to be produced by dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. This is an above average shower, with up to 40 meteors per hour at its peak. It peaks this year on the night of the 3rd and morning of the 4th. Unfortunately the nearly full moon will block out all but the brightest meteors this year. 

  • January 5 - Full Moon - 04:53 UTC. This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Wolf Moon because this was the time of year when hungry wolf packs howled outside their camps. It has also been know as the Old Moon and the Moon After Yule.

  • January 8 - Conjunction between the Moon and Jupiter. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 4°52' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -12.5, and Jupiter at mag -2.5, both in the constellation Leo. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • January 10 - C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) reaches its brightest. The fifth comet discovered by Terry Lovejoy, a long-period Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 4.4. It will lie at a distance of 1.33 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 0.47 AU from the Earth. The visibility of this comet continues to improve as we enter 2015. It is currently shining at mag +5.0 and is expected to more than double in brightness by mid-January 2015. 

  • January 14 - Mercury at greatest elongation east. Mercury will be well placed for observation in the evening sky, shining brightly at mag -2.6. Over the coming weeks, the distance between Mercury and the Sun will decrease each night, and it will gradually sink back into the Sun's glare.

  • January 15 - M47 is well placed for observation. The open star cluster M47 (NGC 2422) in Puppis will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -14°30', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 55°N and 84°S. At magnitude 4.5, M47 is too faint to be seen with the naked eye from any but the very darkest sites, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

  • January 16 - Conjunction between the Moon and Saturn. The Moon and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 1°50' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -11.0 in the constellation Scorpius, and Saturn at mag 1.2 in the neighboring constellation of Libra. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • January 17 - NGC 2451 is well placed for observation. Across much of the world the open star cluster NGC 2451 in Puppis will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -37°58', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 32°N. At magnitude 2.8, NGC 2451 is visible to the naked eye, but best viewed through a pair of binoculars.

  • January 20 - New Moon - 13:14 UTC. The Moon will be directly between the Earth and the Sun and will not be visible from Earth making this the best time of the month to observe faint objects because there is no moonlight to interfere.

  • January 23 - Conjunction between the Moon and Mars. The Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 3°44' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -10.3, and Mars at mag 0.9, both in the constellation Aquarius. The pair will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

  • January 30 - C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) reaches perihelion. Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 1.29 AU.

  • January 31 - M44 is well placed for observation. The Beehive open star cluster (M44, NGC 2632, also known as Praesepe) will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of +19°58', it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 89°N and 50°S. At magnitude 3.7, M44 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site, but is visible through a pair of binoculars or small telescope.

Video courtesy of Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: InTheSky, SeaSky

Featured image: Background image of comet ​C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) taken by Robert Mueller on December 28, 2014 @ Red Rock Observatory Sedona, AZ with Solar System Scope image of planetary positions on January 1, 2015. 

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