We have now passed the winter solstice and although we won’t really notice it yet, the days are starting to get longer. Despite this, we are still in the depths of winter and January is one of the coldest months of the year. You would expect that the coldest days of the year would coincide with the shortest days and the winter solstice but there is a phenomenon know as seasonal lag which means that the coldest days are delayed until after the shortest days. This means that if you are going out in January you will need to put on some extra layers to ensure you stay warm as this is vital to ensure you enjoy your time observing.
This month’s highlights include the Quadrantid meteor shower and some planetary conjunctions.
Sun and Moon
|Date||Sunrise (Irish Time)||Sunset (Irish Time)|
At the start of January, Mercury will be visible in he evening sky not far from Venus. It will be dim though and not easy to see in the twilight. After the 7th January it enters the morning sky. By the end of the month, look for it about 90 mins before sunrise low in the southeast. On 19th January Mercury is close to the 9% crescent Moon.
Venus has returned to the evening sky. At the start of January, Venus sets around 5pm. By the end of the month it sets around 7pm. Look for it in southwest. It will be the brightest object in the sky and unmistakably bright. On 22 January it will be very close to the planet Saturn.
Mars continues to be prominent high in the south during January. Mars appears as a bright salmon coloured star. It is now moving away from Earth so it is starting to get dimmer but it will still be very bright. If you need help finding it, the Moon will be close by on the 3rd January.
Low in the west after sunset, not ideal for viewing. It will be close to Venus on the 21st and 22nd January which will make it easier to find.
Jupiter is high in the south at the start of the month. It is very bright and unmistakable. On 25th and 26th January it will be close to the crescent Moon.
Stars and Constellations
The above sky chart, from heavens-above.com is for 23:00 on 15/01/2023. You can click on the chart to open a new tab and bring you to Heavens Above. On this website you can generate a custom chart for the time and date you wish. The winter constellations are now prominent.
Visible in the south will be Orion (the hunter). Most people are somewhat familiar with this constellation and will be able to pick out Orion’s belt. You may also be able to pick out the Orion nebula just below the Orion’s belt. If you start from here and make a line using the 3 stars of the belt you can follow them down to a bright star called Sirius. Sirius is in the constellation of Cannis Major (the dog). This is actually the brightest star in the sky and is really beautiful.
If you follow the line of the belt in the other direction you will come to a red star called Aldebaran. This is the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus (the bull) which has a distinctive “V” shape. Continuing along this line we come to a misty patch of stars called Pleiades or M45. This is a star forming region 1,344 lightyears away.
Above this is the constellation of Gemini (the twins), Auriga (the charioteer) and Perseus. To the northwest are Cepheus (the house), Cassiopeia (the queen), Andromeda and Pegasus (the flying horse). Andromeda is the location of the Andromeda galaxy which is the furthest object that can be seen with the naked eye. Although, you will need very dark skies to see it. Andromeda and the Milky Way galaxy are headed for a collision and will collide in an estimated 4.5 billion years.
In the west at this time of year you’ll find the constellation of Pisces (the fish) and Aquarius (the water bearer). Mars is also in this area of the sky. Over in the east we have the spring constellations rising. You will see Leo (the lion) low on the eastern horizon.
The Quadrantids Meteor Shower
The Quadrantids Meteor Shower peak happens in early January each year. It is one of the major showers of the year, but occurs in the winter when it can get very cold. This year the peak is expected to happen at 04:00 (Irish time) on January 4th. The Moon be nearly full so will ruin the show. The meteors could appear anywhere in the sky so there is no need to be worry what direction you face. Just try to find a dark location with a clear view of the sky. Try and position yourself with the Moon blocked from view. The best time to look will be from about midnight on the night of 3rd/4th January.