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Look Up At the Night Sky (January 2022)

Winter is a great time to view the night sky. With less haze and humidity, the sky is at its brightest and clearest.

This month Mercury, Venus, Mars and a Meteor Shower will make their appearance known. Be sure to bookmark this page so you can refer to it throughout the month.

By date here is what’s happening in the night sky during January 2022:

January 1–Venus Vanishes
If you’ve enjoyed watching Venus in the night sky, be sure to get outside today as this planet will be making a dramatic exit from the evening sky during the opening days of 2022. Look low in the southwest after sunset on New Year’s Day, and you should be able to see Venus blazing at magnitude -4.4. It will set more than an hour after the Sun. 

Telescopes–or even steadily supported binoculars–show that its globe is just 2% lit, and its slender crescent measures amazingly large–3.3% of the apparent diameter of the Moon, from tip to tip. 

Each day after today, Venus appears noticeably lower, and its crescent grows even thinner; check it with any telescope or steady binoculars – or maybe even your naked eyes. By January 6th, Venus appears only about 5° above the horizon at sunset for observers at mid-northern latitudes.

January 2 – No Moon To View

Today at 1:33 p.m. EST the Moon will be in its New Moon phase, which means it’s not illuminated by direct sunlight and completely invisible to the naked eye.

January 3 – Meteor Shower And Mercury Alert

The annual Quadrantid meteor shower should peak at around 4 p.m. EST– daytime, which means the best part of this display will be hard to view in North America.

However, today isn’t a night sky watching bust. Mercury, which at mid-northern latitudes, will be visible around 30 minutes after sunset about 9° above the southwestern horizon. This smallest planet in our solar system will be making its presence known starting tonight and running through January 12, around the same time each night.

Bonus: If you locate Mercury, use binoculars and scan 5° below this planet  and you might be able to spot a very thin waxing crescent moon, just 31 hours past new and 2% illuminated.  

January 4 –Our Planet Makes Its Closest Annual Approach To The Sun

Now this astronomical event should not be looked for (you should never stare directly at the Sun), but it is an interesting event that happens about two weeks after the Winter Solstice every year. The Earth comes to perihelion, its closest distance to the Sun in space, at 1:54 a.m. EST.  At this moment, the Earth is 91,406,842 miles from the Sun. (Find out when Earth is at aphelion- furthest from the Sun.)

Tonight you may also be able to view a thicker (6% illuminated) crescent Moon about 5° to the left and slightly below Saturn.

January 5 – Jupiter’s January Debut

Jupiter makes itself known tonight, blazing in eastern Aquarius, shinning fairly high in the southwest as the sky grows dark. As you are looking for it, you may also see the ever-widening crescent Moon passes about 6° below it. By month’s end, Jupiter is much lower and sets about a half hour after the end of twilight (for observers at mid-northern latitudes). 

January 7 – Mercury Moves Away From The Sun

This evening, Mercury achieves its greatest elongation (distance) of 19° from the Sun; a moderately favorable apparition. Jupiter will be than half lit then (58% to be exact), so it shines at magnitude -0.6, brighter than usual at maximum elongation.

Take note that during the second week of January, Mercury starts to fade rapidly, from magnitude +0.1 on the 11th to +1.8 six nights later.

January 8 – Venus Takes The Morning Shift

Venus goes through inferior conjunction today and transitions into the morning sky. A week later it rises just over an hour before the Sun. By month’s end the “morning star” is about 14° high, and will show up about 45 minutes before sunrise. Its light will have brightened to a splendid magnitude -4.8, and its crescent will have widened to 15%.

January 9 – First Quarter/Half Moon

AT 1:11 p.m. EST today the Moon will enter its First Quarter or Half Moon phase.

The First Quarter Moon is also called a Half Moon because the Sun’s rays illuminate exactly 50% of the Moon’s surface. This phase happens when the Moon is at a 90 degree angle with respect to the Earth and Sun. So we see exactly the half of the Moon that gets hit by the Sun’s light.

January 13 –Saturn And Mercury Meet Up (Sort of)

Saturn and Mercury engage in a “quasi conjunction.”  According to celestial calculator, Jean Meeus, this is when two bright planets approach to within 5° of each other without a conjunction in right ascension. Mercury passes 3.4° to the lower right of a somewhat dimmer Saturn. Mercury rapidly fades away several evenings later, while Saturn drops into the sunset fires and disappears during the latter part of the month.

January 17 – Full Wolf Moon

January’s Full Moon happens at exactly 6:48 p.m. EST today. Learn more about this month’s Full Moon name in the video below.

January 23 – More Mercury

Mercury goes through inferior conjunction (passing between Earth and Sun).

January 25 – Another Half Moon (Last Quarter)

Today at 8:41 a.m. EST the Moon will enter its Last Quarter phase, which means once again, if the skies are clear, you may see a half Moon in the night sky.

January 29 – Moon and Mars

About an hour before sunrise, low to the southeast horizon, you’ll see a slender crescent
Moon and about 3½° to its upper left, glowing feebly (compared to nearby Venus) will be Mars.

January 31 – Wake Up to Mercury

Mercury emerges back into view by the end of January, now low in the dawn.  This morning it shines at magnitude +1.4 and hangs about 6° above the southeastern horizon and 15° to the lower left of Venus, a half hour before sunrise (for mid-northern viewers).  That should be just high enough for it to be visible with binoculars if the air is very clear. This is a rare opportunity to spot the notoriously elusive innermost planet both at dusk and at dawn during the same calendar month.  

Footnote:
We sometimes use angular degrees to define the separation between two objects, such as (for example) a bright planet and the Moon. Here’s a tip: the width of your clenched fist, held at arm’s length, measures roughly 10°. 

When we speak of magnitude, we are referring to the brightness of an object, the lower the figure of magnitude, the brighter the object. The brightest stars are zero and first magnitude.  Under a dark, clear sky, the faintest objects that you can see with just your eyes are fifth or sixth magnitude.  Objects with negative magnitudes are the brightest. Sirius, the brightest star, is -1.4. Venus can get as bright as -4.8. A Full Moon is -12.7 and the sun is a blindingly bright -26.7!

By Farmers’ Almanac Astronomer Joe Rao. This calendar is adapted from “Skylog,” a regular feature appearing in Natural History magazine written by Mr. Rao since 1995. 

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