The moon begins this month a few days before first quarter and at an apogee distance of 40,4580 kilometres Jan. 9, the moon skirts by the cluster M35, just before full moon Jan. 10. As expected, since a solar eclipse occurred in late December, a lunar eclipse comes 14 days later, on the day of the full moon. Unfortunately, this is a hard-to-detect event, with the moon just barely enters Earth’s shadow, plus it isn’t visible from the Western Hemisphere at all. An observer would have to be in India to witness the moment of greatest eclipse. Jan. 11, the Beehive Cluster (M44) provides the lunar backdrop. By the morning of Jan. 20, Mars is two degrees south of the old moon. Jupiter is occulted Jan. 22 for Southern Hemisphere viewers, and for us, it’s a close brush at 0.4 degrees. The waxing crescent moon glides by Venus on the evenings of Jan. 27 and 28.
Mercury is too close to the sun for most of the month, becoming visible in the evening later on.
Venus is the bright object in the western evening twilight – often mistaken for an airplane’s landing lights, or sometimes thought of as an alien spacecraft. It’s just the brightest object in the sky, after the sun. This will be the best apparition for Northern Hemisphere viewers in nearly a decade. The moon is nearby Jan. 27 and 28 and Neptune is a scant 0.08 degrees north Jan. 27.
Mars is a morning object, gradually moving eastward among the stars of Libra, then Ophiuchus, and Sagittarius. Jan. 17, Mars is right by its rival, the carbon star Antares, named for the Greek god of war; Mars is the Roman god of war, essentially the same god. The key is that Antares and Mars are similar in appearance – bright red. The moon is two degrees north Jan. 20.
Jupiter is too close to the sun during the first half of January for comfort, but gradually shows up in the eastern morning sky toward month end.
Saturn is not visible for the whole month (behind the sun).
Uranus is in the constellation Aries throughout the year, retrograding westward for a few days, then gradually begins proper motion eastward. Opposition comes at the end of October, so chances are good for an unaided viewing of the blue-green planet.
Neptune is in Aquarius for 2020; with a period of about 164 years, it stays relatively in the same place for several years. Look for it in the western evening sky in January.
The Quadrantid meteors peak on the evening of Jan. 4.
James Edgar has had an interest in the night sky all his life. He joined The Royal Astronomical Society of Canada in 2000, was national president for two terms, is now the editor of the Observer’s Handbook, and production manager of the bi-monthly RASC Journal. The IAU named asteroid 1995 XC5 “(22421) Jamesedgar” in his honour.