If you want to see premier league stars strutting their stuff, then January is the month, with the brightest stars and most conspicuous constellations all in the sky.
Look north-west and the first group you will notice will be Ursa Major, or the Plough, with its tail pointing towards the Horizon. The ‘W’ shape of Cassiopeia is high up in the north-west. The North Star, of course, will be in its usual position due north. It cannot be anywhere else.
The southern part of the night sky is dominated by Orion, which cannot be overlooked. Led by Betelgueuse and Rigel. All of the winter constellations can now be seen. If you use the three stars of Orion’s belt and draw a line to the left it will point to Sirius the Dog Star, the brightest star in the sky.
You will find to the right of Orion, Aldebaran, the bright red eye of the Taurus the bull. Above Orion you will see Capella, crowning the constellation Auriga, and nearby Castor and Pollux, the celestial twins in Gemini.
This year dazzling Venus joins these jewels. A brilliant lantern in the dusk sky, ushering in the New Year. At magnitude –4.3, the evening star reaches its maximum elongation from the Sun on the 12 of this month. It sets around 8.45pm and a low power telescope will show its globe is half lit.
To the upper right of Venus is Mars. Moving as the month progresses from Aquarius to Pices. With a magnitude of +1.0 it is 100 times fainter than Venus, and slips below the Horizon at 9pm.
There are two easy chances to spot faint Neptune this January. You will need binoculars as its magnitude is +7.9, and it will be in Aquarius. On the 1st night of the year it will be found 20 arc minutes to the lower right of Mars, and on the 12th it will be a similar distance to the left of Venus. By the end of the months Neptune will be setting as early as 7.30pm.
Uranus at magnitude +5.8 lies in Pisces and sets just after midnight.
The gas giant Jupiter rises about midnight, shining brightly at magnitude –1.9, near Virgos brightest star Spica.
In mid month there will be two planets low in the south-east, just before dawn. The brighter is Mercury, with magnitude –0.1. To its upper right is Saturn with a magnitude +0.6 rising around 6am in Ophiuchus
The first regular meteor shower of the year is the Quadrantids, which can be seen on the night of January 3/4. Best seen after 11pm when the Moon has set. The Quadrantids is the only meteor shower that takes its name from a defunct constellation. It is named after the Mural Quadrant, one of many which no longer exists because the star map has been redrawn.
Phases of the moon for January are :-
First Quarter 5th
Full Moon 12th
Last quarter 19th
New Moon 28th
On January 4th the earth is at Perihelion, its closest point to the Sun, at 147 million kilometres way.