The New Year begins with a cornucopia of celestial sights, from colourful shooting stars to a glorious Evening star. A bevy of brilliant stars, Bettlegeuse and Rigel in Orion. Aldebaran, the bright red eye of Taurus. Capella crowning Auriga. Caster and Pollux, the celestial twins in Gemini, and glorious Sirius in Canis Major.
As for the star patterns, what a great month to see them. 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 Betelgeuse 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.
At the start of January Mars is brighter than any of the stars apart from Sirus. At magnitude –0.2, As the month progresses it fades as Earth and Mars move apart. By the close of January The Red Planet has dropped to magnitude +0.4. Moving rapidly from Pisces to Aires, it sinks below the horizon around 1.45am.
On 21st January, Mars lies near Uranus. The seventh planet will be 1.5 degrees to the lower left of Mars. It is just on the verge of naked-eye visibility at magnitude +5.8, but best seen in binoculars. Setting about 1.45am, it can be found on the constellation of Aries.
At the beginning of the month, the gas giant Jupiter is very low in the south western twilight after sunset. At magnitude-1.9.
Saturn lies to the lower right of Jupiter. Ten times fainter at magnitude +0.6. Both planets are in Capricornus and set around 5.45pm.
Mercury moves up from the sunset horizon early in January. It is at magnitude –0.9 0n 11th of the month when it passes below Jupiter. On 14th January there is a lovely tableau of Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn with the crescent Moon. The innermost planet is at its maximum separation from the Sun on the 24th of the month. By the months end it has faded to magnitude +1.0, but is visible in a darker sky, as it doesn’t set until 6.15pm.
Neptune, at magnitude +7.9, visible only in binoculars or a telescope lies in Aquarius and sets about 9.15pm.
At the start of the month you can’t miss magnificent Venus in the dawn sky. Low in the south-east. The morning star lazes at magnitude -3.9, and rises around 6.30am. But it’s sinking down into the twilight and has disappeared from sight by the months end.
The first regular meteor shower of the year is the Quadrantids, which can be seen on the night of January 3/4. But the display this year is spoilt by bright moonlight. These bright colourful shooting stars are dust particles from the old comet 2003Eh1. 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.
Other high lights of the month will be: –
At 1.50pm on 2nd January the Earth is closet to the Sun, 147million Km away.
Phases of the moon for January are :-
First Quarter 3rd
Full Moon 10th
Last quarter 17th
New Moon 24th