We have now passed the winter solstice and although we won’t really notice it yet, the days are starting to get longer. Despite this, we are still in the depths of winter and January is one of the coldest months of the year. You would expect that the coldest days of the year would coincide with the shortest days and the winter solstice but there is a phenomenon know as seasonal lag which means that the coldest days are delayed until after the shortest days. This means that if you are going out in January you will need to put on some extra layers to ensure you stay warm as this is vital to ensure you enjoy your time observing.
Last month the Great Conjunction with Jupiter and Saturn took place, although for me at least, I only managed to catch it on the day before the main even as the weather was terrible. During January, Jupiter and Saturn will remain close in the sky and will also be joined by Mercury and the Moon. From the 9th January to the 13th January look for Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury along the southwest horizon about 40 mins after sunset. On the evening of 14th January, the three planets will be joined by the crescent moon. This should be a particularly nice sight in the south west.
Sun and Moon
|Date||Sunrise (Irish Time)||Sunset (Irish Time)|
Mercury is visible in the evening sky from 7th January, 40 mins after sunset in the southwest. The best time to see it will be between 7th and 24th January. After that it will start to get dimmer making it hard to spot.
Venus is getting lower in the sky but still prominent in the morning twilight. It is best seen early in January. It rises about 1.5 hours before sunrise at the end of the start of the month and will be bright in the south east . By the end of the month it will rise only 30 mins before the Sun.
Mars was at opposition on 13th October and is still well placed in the January sky . It will appear as a salmon – pink coloured star and will have already risen when the sky gets dark. It will start off high in the South and move towards the west as the night goes on.
Jupiter remains in the sky in January but is very low in the west as darkness falls. It will be close to Saturn and will be the brighter of the two.
Saturn is visible close to Jupiter, it will also be very low in the west as darkness is falling. It will be the dimmer of the two stars.
Stars and Constellations
The above sky chart, from heavens-above.com is for 23:00 on 15/01/2021. You can click on the chart to open a new tab and bring you to Heavens Above. On this website you can generate a custom chart for the time and date you wish. The winter constellations are now prominent.
Visible in the south will be Orion (the hunter). Most people are somewhat familiar with this constellation and will be able to pick out Orion’s belt. You may also be able to pick out the Orion nebula just below the Orion’s belt. If you start from here and make a line using the 3 stars of the belt you can follow them down to a bright star called Sirius. Sirius is in the constellation of Cannis Major (the dog). This is actually the brightest star in the sky and is really beautiful.
If you follow the line of the belt in the other direction you will come to a red star called Aldebaran. This is the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus (the bull) which has a distinctive “V” shape. Continuing along this line we come to a misty patch of stars called Pleiades or M45. This is a star forming region 1,344 lightyears away.
Above this is the constellation of Gemini (the twins), Auriga (the charioteer) and Perseus. To the northwest are Cepheus (the house), Cassiopeia (the queen), Andromeda and Pegasus (the flying horse). Andromeda is the location of the Andromeda galaxy which is the furthest object that can be seen with the naked eye. Although, you will need very dark skies to see it. Andromeda and the Milky Way galaxy are headed for a collision and will collide in an estimated 4.5 billion years.
In the west at this time of year you’ll find the constellation of Pisces (the fish) and Aquarius (the water bearer). Mars is also in this area of the sky. Over in the east we have the spring constellations rising. You will see Leo (the lion) low on the eastern horizon.
The Quadrantids Meteor Shower
The Quadrantids Meteor Shower peak happens in early January each year. It is one of the major showers of the year, but occurs in the winter when it can get very cold. This year the peak is expected to happen at 14:30(Irish time) on the 3rd January. This isn’t ideal this year as the Moon is nearly full and will out shine most of the meteors. It may still be worth having a look on the nights of the 2nd/3rd and 3rd/4th January. Try and place the Moon behind a wall.