Three-body photo events in January

James Edgar

The moon begins the year just past full phase. The next significant event is Jan. 11, when Venus is just 1.5 degrees north of Luna. Jan. 13, Jupiter is snuggled up close at three degrees north, but Jan 14, Mercury is even closer at two degrees away. Could be a three-body photo event. Jan.  21 brings another three-body photo-op with Mars and Uranus at five and three degrees north, respectively. Jan. 25, the moon is 0.3 degrees north of the cluster known as M35. The moon is full Jan. 28.

Mercury is 1.7 degrees south of Saturn Jan. 9. This is one day before another three-body grouping of Jupiter, Saturn and Mercury. The threesome are within a tight 2.3-degree circle – another photo-op, although it is an early evening event, close to the horizon. Jan. 11 brings another close pairing when Mercury is 1.5 degrees southeast of Jupiter, still in the early evening. The speedy planet climbs the ecliptic, getting higher each afternoon as it rounds from behind the sun , until reaching greatest elongation east (GEE) Jan. 23.

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Venus presents a tough southeastern sighting, since the winter morning ecliptic is nearly parallel to the horizon, so the bright planet rises just before the sun breaks through the dawn. The moon is a slight crescent on the morning of Jan. 11, with Venus just 1.5 degrees to the east.

Mars is high in the sky at sunset, cruising slowly eastward among the stars of Pisces and Aries, just to the west of Orion and Taurus. Jan. 21, Uranus joins up with the Red Planet, only 1.7 degrees away, and the moon five degrees to the east.

Jupiter and Saturn begin the year in the early evening sky, having just passed an exceptionally closed conjunction. As January progresses, Jupiter pulls away from the Ringed Planet, but we on Earth pull away even more quickly, leaving both Jupiter and Saturn to be swallowed up in the sun’s glare ‑‑ Saturn first, then Jupiter. A tough sighting will be Jan. 10 as mentioned above in Mercury, when the three bodies form a tight circle. Jan. 13, Jupiter is three degrees north of the moon.

Uranus is among the stars of Aries throughout the year. Mars is a useful guide to detect Uranus, and, in fact, the two planets are in close proximity Jan. 21.

Neptune is found with optical aid in the constellation Aquarius, where it will reside in all of 2021.

The Quadrantid meteors peak Jan. 3.


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 Observer’s Handbook and production manager of the bi-monthly RASC Journal. The IAU named asteroid 1995 XC5 “(22421) Jamesedgar” in his honour.


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