A Sky Full of Stars: January’s Joys!

December 31st, 2017 by Tavi Greiner

The New Year begins with an astronomical bang, with two perigee Full Moons, four morning planets, two Moon/planets conjunctions, the Quadrantid Meteor Shower, and a lunar eclipse – all in the month of January!


PERIGEE FULL MOON – January 1/2: January’s first perigee Full Moon will also be the closest, thus largest-appearing, of 2018. The Moon will reach lunar perigee at 21:54 UTC on the 1st and 100% illumination about five hours later, at 02:24 UTC on the 2nd.

You can use a timezone convertor to determine your local times, but wherever you are, the Full Moon will look especially large and bright during the first two nights of the New Year!

FUN FACT: January’s Full Moon is also know as the Wolf Moon. At perigee, it will be 221,559-miles from Earth.


JUPITER & MARS – January 1-31: Jupiter and Mars are closely paired above the early morning SE horizon, throughout January, with Mars starting the month just above Jupiter, drifting closer to the horizon as the days pass, and eventually rising just beneath the larger planet by the morning of the 8th.

The two planets may even appear as one bright object, for many observers, on the mornings of the 6th and 7th. Luna joins the pair as a waning crescent on the 11th.

FUN CHALLENGE: A pair of binoculars will reveal up to four little moons close to Jupiter!


MERCURY & SATURN – January 1-15: Northern Hemisphere observers can expect a nice morning twilight showing of Mercury, low on the ESE horizon during the first two weeks of January. Watch for Saturn to make an appearance beneath Mercury on the 6th, and climb higher with each passing morning, as Mercury steadily moves closer to the horizon.

The two planets will be side-by-side on the mornings of the 12th and 13th. Luna joins them as a 6% crescent on the 14th and as a very thin 2% sliver on the 15th.

FUN CHALLENGE: Try to capture an image that reveals the Moon’s earthshine on the 14th and 15th. You can also use binoculars to explore the lunar regions within that dimmer region.


QUADRANTID METEOR SHOWER – January 4: The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaks on the afternoon of the 4th, so try to do some observing earlier that morning, in the hour or two before sunrise. A nearly Full Moon will make meteor watching more challenging, but you should be able to spot some of the brighter streaks, and possibly a fireball or two.

The Quadrantids no longer have a specific constellation to reference, but they typically appear in the region between the Big Dipper above your N horizon and Arcturus high above the E horizon.

FUN FACT: The Quadrantids’ progenitor is believed to be an extinct comet that is now known as the asteroid, 2003 EH1.


SUNSET CRESCENT MOON – January 18-20: Watch for the waxing crescent Moon on your WSW horizon at sunset, January 18, 19, and 20. This will another opportunity to catch an image of that earthshine and explore lunar features in that shadowed region.


When the sky darkens, turn to your ESE horizon for a look at Orion the Hunter and the Hyades and Pleiades star clusters!

FUN CHALLENGE: Use your binoculars to browse the region between Capella and Orion, where you’ll find several open star clusters!


PERIGEE FULL MOON / LUNAR ECLIPSE – January 30/31: January’s second perigee Full Moon will pass through Earth’s shadow, offering a partial or total lunar eclipse for some observers. This second Full Moon of the month is also known as a Blue Moon. Blue Moons occur about once every two-and-a-half to three years, but we’ll have two in 2018, with the second one occurring on March 31.

Luna will reach perigee at 09:54 UTC on the 30th, begin its passage through Earth’s shadow at 11:48 UTC on the 31st, and reach 100% illumination at 13:27 UTC on the 31st. Visit NASA’s Lunar Eclipse page for shadow stages and use a timezone converter to determine local times.

FUN FACT: We’ll also have two total lunar eclipses in 2018, with the second one occurring on July 27!


Of course, the celestial wonders don’t end in January, so check back each month for the latest night sky events and fun observing challenges!





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