The New Year kicks off with a dazzling supermoon, on the night of the 1st into the morning of the 2nd. 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 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.
You will have to be up before dawn to catch any naked eye planets this month, and they are putting on quite a performance.
Brilliant Jupiter at magnitude –1.9 is unmistakable among the faint stars of Libra. The gas giant rises around 3am.
Clearing the horizon about the same time, but 20 times fainter at magnitude +1.4 Mars is travelling rapidly through Libra and skims only 15 arcminutes from Jupiter in the early hours of 7th January.
At the start of the month Mercury can be found very low down in the south-east just before dawn. Shining at magnitude –0.3. As this tiny world drops down into the twilight, it speeds past Saturn on the morning of the 13th. The ringworld has only half the brightness of Mercury at +0.5. In the latter half of the month, Saturn is left on its own, rising about 6.30am in Sagittarius.
The evening sky is home to the two most dim planets. Neptune at magnitude +7.9 inhabits Aquarius, and sets around 8.30pm. Slightly brighter Uranus lies in Pisces. On the borderline of naked eye visibility, at magnitude +5.8, it sets about 0.30am.
Venus will be lost in the Sun’s glare this month.
The first regular meteor shower of the year is the Quadrantids, which can be seen on the night of January 3/4. This year the bright moonlight will spoil the show. 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 :-
Full Moon 2nd
Last quarter 8th
New Moon 17th
First Quarter 24th
Full Moon 31st