Night Sky Guide for January 2020

Night Sky Guide for January 2020

January 3 - Moon at First Quarter - 04:46 UTC. The Moon will be prominent in the evening sky, setting around midnight. At this time in its monthly cycle of phases, it appears almost exactly half illuminated.

January 4 - Quadrantid Meteor Shower. This is an above-average meteor shower, producing up to 40 meteors per hour at its peak. It is thought to be produced by dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. The first quarter moon will set shortly after midnight, leaving fairly dark skies for what could be a good show. The best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors will radiate from the constellation Bootes but can appear anywhere in the sky.

January 5 - Earth at perihelion - 07:47 UTC. The Earth's annual orbit around the solar system will carry it to its closest point to the Sun, at a distance of 0.98 AU. The Earth's distance from the Sun varies by around 3% over the course of the year because its orbit is slightly oval-shaped, following a path called an ellipse. In practice, this variation is rather slight, however, because the Earth's orbit is very nearly circular. The Earth completes one revolution around this oval-shaped orbit each year, and so it makes its closest approach to the Sun on roughly the same day every year. In 2020, this falls on January 5. Technically speaking, this marks the moment when the Sun appears larger in the sky than at any other time of year, and when the Earth receives the most radiation from it. In practice, however, a 3% difference in the Earth's distance from the Sun is barely noticeable. Annual changes in our weather, for example between the summer and winter, are caused entirely by the tilt of the Earth's axis of rotation, rather than by any change in its distance from the Sun.

January 10 - Mercury at superior solar conjunction - 15:01 UTC. Mercury will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth. This occurs once in every synodic cycle of the planet (116 days), and marks the end of Mercury's apparition in the morning sky and its transition to become an evening object over the next few weeks. At the closest approach, Mercury will appear at a separation of only 1°55' from the Sun, making it totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare.

January 10 - Penumbral lunar eclipse - 17:08 to 21:12 UTC. The Moon will pass through the Earth's shadow, creating a penumbral lunar eclipse. The eclipse will be visible in any location where the Moon is above the horizon at the time, including from Africa, Oceania, Asia, Europe, and Northern America. In a penumbral eclipse, the Moon passes through an outer region of the Earth's shadow called the penumbra. This is the outer part of the Earth's shadow, in which the Earth appears to cover part of the Sun's disk, but not all of it. As a result, the Moon's brightness will be reduced, as it is less strongly illuminated by the Sun, but the whole of the Moon's disk will remain illuminated to some degree. The effect is only perceptible to those with very astute vision, or in carefully controlled photographs.

January 10 - Full Moon - 19:21 UTC. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. 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. This moon has also been know as the Old Moon and the Moon After Yule.

January 12 - Close approach of the Moon and M44 - 00:51 UTC. The Moon and M44 will make a close approach, passing within 1°17' of each other. The Moon will be 17 days old. The Moon will be at mag -12.8, and M44 will be at mag 3.1. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Cancer. They will be too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope but will be visible through a pair of binoculars.

January 13 - Saturn at solar conjunction - 15:18 UTC. Saturn will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth. At the closest approach, Saturn will appear at a separation of only 0°02' from the Sun, making it totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare. At around the same time, Saturn will also be at its most distant from the Earth – receding to a distance of 11.02 AU – since the two planets will lie on opposite sides of the solar system. If Saturn could be observed at this time, it would appear at its smallest and faintest on account of its large distance. It would measure 15.1 arcsec in diameter. Over the following weeks and months, Saturn will re-emerge to the west of the Sun, gradually becoming visible for ever-longer periods in the pre-dawn sky. After around six months, it will reach opposition, when it will be visible for virtually the whole night.

January 13 - Pluto at solar conjunction - 20:01 UTC. Pluto will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth. At the closest approach, Pluto will appear at a separation of only 0°40' from the Sun, making it totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare.

January 14 - Ceres at solar conjunction - 02:37 UTC. Ceres will pass very close to the Sun in the sky as its orbit carries it around the far side of the solar system from the Earth. At the closest approach, Ceres will appear at a separation of only 4°17' from the Sun, making it totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare. At around the same time, Ceres will also be at its most distant from the Earth – receding to a distance of 3.91 AU – since the two planets will lie on opposite sides of the solar system.

January 15 - Asteroid 511 Davida at opposition - 09:34 UTC. Asteroid 511 Davida will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Gemini, well above the horizon for much of the night. Regardless of your location on the Earth, 511 Davida will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time.

January 15 - M47 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°28', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 55°N and 84°S. At magnitude 4.4, M47 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site but is visible through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

January 15 - NGC 2403 well placed for observation. NGC 2403, a spiral galaxy in Camelopardalis will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of +65°36', it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much south of 4°S. At magnitude 8.9, NGC2403 is quite faint, and certainly not visible to the naked eye, but can be viewed through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

January 17 - Moon at Last Quarter - 12:58 UTC. The Moon will be prominent in the dawn sky, rising at around midnight.

January 17 - NGC 2451 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 but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 32°N. At magnitude 2.8, NGC2451 is visible to the naked eye, but best viewed through a pair of binoculars.

January 19 - γ-Ursae Minorid meteor shower The γ-Ursae Minorid meteor shower will be active from January 15 to 25, producing its peak rate of meteors around January 19. Over this period, there will be a chance of seeing γ-Ursae Minorid meteors whenever the shower's radiant point – in the constellation Ursa Minor – is above the horizon, with the number of visible meteors increasing the higher the radiant point is in the sky.

January 20 - Conjunction of the Moon and Mars - 19:12 UTC. The Moon and Mars will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 2°15' to the north of Mars. The Moon will be 25 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -10.8, and Mars at mag 1.4, both in the constellation Ophiuchus.

January 20 - Close approach of the Moon and Mars - 20:08 UTC. The Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 2°11' of each other. The Moon will be 25 days old. The Moon will be at mag -10.8, and Mars will be at mag 1.4. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Ophiuchus. They 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. At around the same time, the pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

January 20 - NGC 2516 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the open star cluster NGC 2516 in Volans will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -60°45', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 9°N. At magnitude 3.8, NGC2516 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site but is visible through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

January 21 - Asteroid 5 Astraea at opposition - 21:34 UTC. Asteroid 5 Astraea will be well placed for observation, lying in the constellation Cancer, well above the horizon for much of the night. Regardless of your location on the Earth, 5 Astraea will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time.

January 23 - Close approach of the Moon and Jupiter - 02:41 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 0°21' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -9.0, and Jupiter will be at mag -1.9. Both objects will lie in the constellation of Sagittarius. They will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

January 23 - Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter - 02:42 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 0°21' to the south of Jupiter. The Moon will be 28 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The pair will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible to the naked eye or through a pair of binoculars.

January 24 - New Moon - 21:42 UTC. The Moon will be located on the same side of the Earth as the Sun and will not be visible in the night sky. This is the best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere.

January 24 - NGC 2547 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the open star cluster NGC 2547 in Vela will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -49°12', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 20°N. At magnitude 4.7, NGC2547 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 a small telescope.

January 27 - Conjunction of Venus and Neptune - 19:21 UTC. Venus and Neptune will share the same right ascension, with Venus passing 0°04' to the south of Neptune. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. Venus will be at mag -4.1, and Neptune at mag 7.9, both in the constellation Aquarius. The pair will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars.

January 27 - Close approach of Venus and Neptune - 20:00 UTC. Venus and Neptune will make a close approach, passing within 0°04' of each other. Venus will be at mag -4.1, and Neptune will be at mag 7.9. Both objects will lie in the constellation Aquarius. They will be close enough to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible through a pair of binoculars. At around the same time, the pair will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

January 28 - Conjunction of the Moon and Venus - 07:29 UTC. The Moon and Venus will share the same right ascension, with the Moon passing 4°04' to the south of Venus. The Moon will be 4 days old. At around the same time, the two objects will also make a close approach, technically called an appulse. The Moon will be at mag -10.2, and Venus at mag -4.1, 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 28 - Close approach of the Moon, Venus, and Neptune - 10:42 UTC. The Moon, Venus, and Neptune will make a close approach, passing within 3°49' of each other. The Moon will be at mag -10.2; Venus will be at mag -4.1, and Neptune will be at mag 7.9. The trio will lie in the constellation Aquarius. They 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. At around the same time, the trio will also share the same right ascension – called conjunction.

January 31 - M44 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°40', it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 89°N and 50°S. At magnitude 3.1, M44 is tricky to make out with the naked eye except from a dark site but is visible through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

January 31 - IC2391 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the omicron Velorum open star cluster (IC 2391) in Vela will be well placed for observation. It will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time. At a declination of -53°02', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere but cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 16°N. At magnitude 2.5, IC2391 is visible to the naked eye, but best viewed through a pair of binoculars.

Video courtesy Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: In The Sky by Dominic Ford, NASA

Featured image created using Pleiades image by Palomar Observatory

Comments

No comments yet. Why don't you post the first comment?

Post a comment

Your name: *

Your email address: *

Comment text: *

The image that appears on your comment is your Gravatar