The New Year opens with a tableau of dazzling stars. Betelgeuse and Rigel in Orion, with glorious Sirius in Canis Major, (the Great dog) to its lower left. Forming a giant arc above, there is Procyon, Caster and Pollox (the celestial twins of Gemini), Capella and the red giant Aldebaran. We are also treated to the bright planets Venus, Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury just after sunset, and a brilliant display of shooting stars.
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.
On the first few days of the New Year, look very low in the south west just after sunset to spot the brilliant planet Venus. Shining at magnitude –4.3. The evening star is falling rapidly into the twilight, and after passing between the earth and the sun on the 9th of this month, it reappears as the Morning star by mid January, rising in the south east about 7am.
Mercury at magnitude –0.7 lies to the left of Venus at the start of the month, and remain low in the evening sky for almost two weeks, fading all the time. It is at its greatest separation from the Sun on the 7th January. The innermost planet sets about 5.50pm. It is initially rising towards Saturn, and it approaches to almost 3 degrees of Saturn on 12th of the month before dropping down into the evening glow.
Saturn can be found in Capricornus, low in the southwest. Shinning at magnitude +0.7, it sets about 6pm and disappears from view in the dusk twilight in the second half of January.
Located to the upper left of all these planets is Jupiter in the early evening, in the constellation of Aquarius. With a brilliant magnitude of –2.1 the gas giant sets around 8pm.
Neptune at magnitude +7.9 is located on the other side of Aquarius and sinks below the horizon around 9.30pm.
Uranus follows it, in the constellation of Pisces, which is a little brighter at magnitude +5.7. It falls below the horizon around 2am.
Mars rises about 6am in the south east. It starts the month near Antares, and moves through Ophiuchus and Sagittarius as the month progresses. By the months end the Red planet lies to the lower right of Venus though it is 250 times fainter at magnitude +1.4.
The first regular meteor shower of the year is the Quadrantids, which can be seen on the night of January 3/4. Withy the Moon well out of the way, this year’s display should be spectacular. 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 are: –
At 6.45am on the 4th January the Earth is closet to the Sun, 147million Km away.
Phases of the moon for January are :-
New Moon 2nd
First Quarter 9th
Full Moon 17th
Last quarter 25th