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 weather was terrible where I am. I almost forget what a clear sky looked like. Hopefully this month will be better. This month’s highlights include the Quadrantid meteor shower and some planetary conjunctions.
Sun and Moon
|Date||Sunrise (Irish Time)||Sunset (Irish Time)|
Mercury is visible in the evening sky. Look for it in the southwest after sunset. It will be visible for about 1 hour after sunset and will get dimmer as the month goes on so try to catch it early if you can.
Venus is heading for inferior conjunction on January 9th. This is when the planet passes between the Earth and sun in its orbit. It also marks the transition between being an evening planet and a morning planet. For the first few days of January you can spot Venus in the southwest just after sunset. In the second half of the month the planet will be visible in the southeast just before sunrise.
Mars continues to be a morning planet during January. It rises about 2 hour before the Sun at this month.
Jupiter remains in the sky in January. It will be high in the south as the sky darkens and will set around 20:00 at the start of the month. This reduces to about 19:30 at the end of the month. On the evening of January 6th, the crescent moon is close to Jupiter.
Saturn is visible close to Jupiter at the start of the month, it will also be low in the southwest as darkness is falling. It sets around 19:00. By the middle of the month, Saturn will be lost to the twilight.
Stars and Constellations
The above sky chart, from heavens-above.com is for 23:00 on 15/01/2022. 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 20:40 (Irish time) on January 3rd. The Moon will only be a crescent and will set before 17:00 so wont be an issue. The meteors could appear anywhere in the sky so there is no need to be worry what direction you face. Just try to find a dark location with a clear view of the sky. The best time to look will be from about midnight on the night of 3rd/4th January.