On Monday evening, January 2, a slender crescent Moon in the southwest sky will be flanked by two planets. To the Moon’s upper left is 1st magnitude Mars; to its lower left glows Venus, stunning throughout January as it brightens from magnitude -4.3 to -4.6, remaining up for almost 4 hours after sunset (for observers at mid-northern latitudes).
Seen from latitude 40° north, Venus’s altitude a half hour after sunset increases from 30 to 36° between New Year’s Day and month’s end. Mars also lies near Venus. On New Year’s Day the reddish planet is 12° to the east (upper left) of Venus; watch the two approach each other during January as they move rapidly against the backdrop of Aquarius and Pisces.
Then, be sure to set your alarm clock and be ready to arise around 5 a.m. on Tuesday morning (January 3rd) if you want to catch sight of some “shooting stars.”
In contrast to the poor viewing conditions we had for the December Geminid meteor shower, the viewing circumstances will be nearly ideal for viewing the January Quadrantids meteor shower. This meteor display has produced spectacular numbers of faint meteors in recent years, with a radiant lying midway between the Big Dipper’s handle and the head of Draco. The sharp peak of the Quadrantids is due about 9 a.m. Eastern Time; 6 a.m. Pacific Time on January 3rd, according to the 2017 Observer’s Handbook of the Royal Astronomical Association of Canada.
North American observers, especially those living near and along the West Coast should watch the sky carefully toward dawn on Tuesday morning. An individual observer with dark, transparent skies will perhaps notice one Quadrantid meteor per minute that morning, and far fewer numbers at other times during the first week of the New Year.