Night sky guide for January 2016

Night sky guide for January 2016

We start the year with our planet reaching perihelion - closest point to the Sun - which will happen at 22:49 UTC on January 2. At the time, Earth will be 146.6 million km (91 million miles) from the Sun. 

The first meteor shower of the year - Quadrantids - will reach the maximum rate of activity on the morning of January 4. However, some shooting stars will be visible each night from January 1 to 6. The Moon will be 24 days old at the time of peak activity, and so will present minimal interference.

The best time of the month to observe faint objects such as galaxies and star clusters because there is no moonlight to interfere - New Moon - is scheduled for the night of January 10.

Full Moon is scheduled for January 24. 

  • January 2 - Earth at perihelion - 22:49 UTC.  The Earth's annual orbit around the Solar System will carry us to our closest point to the Sun, at a distance of 0.98 AU (146.6 million km / 91 million miles). 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 because the Earth's orbit is very nearly circular. Our planet 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. 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 2 - M41 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. At magnitude 4.5, M41 is too faint to be seen with the naked eye from any but the very darkest sites. It will, however, be visible through a pair of binoculars or a small telescope.

  • January 3 - Conjunction between the Moon and Mars. The Moon and Mars will make a close approach, passing within 1°25' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -11.5, and Mars at mag 0.8, both in the constellation VirgoThey 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 3, 4 - Quadrantid Meteor Shower.  The Quadrantids, an above average shower, will reach its peak on the night of January 3 and the morning of January 4. The maximum rate of meteors expected to be visible from a dark location is around 80 per hour (ZHR). The Moon will be 24 days old at the time of peak activity, and so will present minimal interference. The best place to look to see as many meteors as possible is not at the radiant itself, but at any dark patch of sky which is around 90° away from it, since it is at a distance of around 90° from the radiant that meteors will typically appear at their brightest. 

  • January 6 - Pluto at solar conjunction - 03:20 UTC. From our vantage point on the Earth, Pluto will appear very close to the Sun in the sky as it passes around the far side of the solar system from the Earth. At closest approach, Pluto and the Sun will appear at a separation of only 1°34', making the dwarf planet totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare. At around the same time, Pluto will also be at its most distant from the Earth – receding to a distance of 34.00 AU – since the two planets will lie on opposite sides of the solar systemOver the following weeks and months, Pluto 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 7 - Conjunction between the Moon and Venus - 00:45 UTC. The Moon and Venus will make a close approach, passing within 3°04' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -10.2, and Venus at mag -4.4, both in the constellation OphiuchusThe 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 9 - Conjunction between Venus and Saturn - 04:12 UTC. Venus and Saturn will make a close approach, passing within 0°05' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, Venus will be at mag -4.4, and Saturn at mag 1.2, both in the constellation OphiuchusAt closest approach, the pair will be close enough to fit comfortably within the field of view of a telescope, but will also be visible to the naked eye or a through a pair of binoculars.

  • January 10 - New Moon - 01:30 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 10 - C/2013 US10 (Catalina) reaches its brightest. Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 5.1. It will lie at a distance of 1.30 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 0.77 AU from the Earth.

  • January 11 - 116P/Wild at perihelion. Comet 116P/Wild will make its closest approach to the Sun, at a distance of 2.19 AU.

  • January 12 - 204P/LINEAR-NEAT reaches its brightest. Comet 204P/LINEAR-NEAT is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 12.8. It will lie at a distance of 1.95 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 0.98 AU from the Earth.

  • January 14 - Mercury at inferior solar conjunction - 13:59 UTC. From our vantage point on the Earth, Mercury will appear very close to the Sun in the sky as it passes between the Sun and Earth. At closest approach, Mercury and the Sun will appear at a separation of only 3°01', making Mercury totally unobservable for several weeks while it is lost in the Sun's glare. Mercury will also pass perigee – the time when it is closest to the Earth – within a few days of the same time since it will lie on the same side of the Sun as the Earth in the Solar System. It will move to within a distance of 0.67 AU from the Earth, making it appear with its largest angular sizeMercury's reaching inferior conjunction marks the end of its apparition in the evening sky and its transition to becoming a morning object over the next few weeks.

  • 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°30', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 55°N and 84°S. At magnitude 4.4, 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 is well placed.  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°35', it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much south of 4°S. At magnitude 8.4, 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 16 - Conjunction between the Moon and Uranus - 07:04 UTC. The Moon and Uranus will make a close approach, passing within 1°23' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -11.8, and Uranus at mag 5.8, both in the constellation PiscesThe 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 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, NGC2451 is visible to the naked eye, but best viewed through a pair of binoculars.

  • January 19 - C/2014 W2 (PANSTARRS) reaches its brightest. Comet C/2014 W2 (PANSTARRS) is forecast to reach its brightest, at around mag 12.1. It will lie at a distance of 2.72 AU from the Sun, and at a distance of 2.56 AU from the Earth.

  • 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°52', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere and 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 23 - 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°16', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere and 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 24 - Full Moon - 01:46 UTC. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun, and its face will be 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. It has also been known as the Old Moon and the Moon After Yule.

  • January 28 - Conjunction between the Moon and Jupiter - 00:25 UTC. The Moon and Jupiter will make a close approach, passing within 1°20' of each other. At the moment of closest approach, the Moon will be at mag -12.4, and Jupiter at mag -2.4, both in the constellation LeoThe 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 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°58', it is easiest to see from the northern hemisphere; it can be seen at latitudes between 89°N and 50°S. At magnitude 3.1, 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°04', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere and 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.

  • January 31 - IC2395 well placed for observation. Across much of the world, the open star cluster IC 2395 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 -48°12', it is easiest to see from the southern hemisphere and cannot be seen from latitudes much north of 21°N. At magnitude 4.6, IC2395 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.

Video courtesy of the Hubble Space Telescope

Sources: InTheSky (Dominic Ford)SeaSky

Featured image: Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) by Damian Peach on top of Solar System Scope's image of planetary positions on January 2, 2015. Edit: The Watchers

Comments

Dave Howe 5 months ago

This is a great site I stumbled into! One question, tho: who is actually responsible for scheduling the phases of the Moon? :)

Adonai (@Dave Howe) 5 months ago

That's a very good question! ;)

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