Answers about the Night Sky

Answers about the Night Sky

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What’s up in Tonight’s Sky

By Garry Beckstrom

 

January 2018

HERE’S WHAT TO LOOK FOR THIS MONTH

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Click HERE to Download our basic EVENING Star Map for January 2018 (pdf)

January2018Starmap copy(For star maps to print properly, download pdf and save to your computer, then print from there.)

Download our star maps to help you find your way around the sky.
Our basic star maps show the planets and major star patterns or constellations visible in the evening and morning skies this month, without faint background stars. This makes it easier to pick out the brighter patterns in the real sky. Hold the map over your head with “North” on the map facing the direction north. The middle of the circular map (marked “zenith”) is the point directly over your head. The edges of the circular map mark the horizon all around you. Find one of the bright constellation patterns, ignoring fainter stars you might see in between. You can then jump from constellation to constellation, finding your way around the sky. It helps to use a dim, red flashlight so that you can see both the map and the sky together.

 

Click HERE to Download our basic MORNING Star Map for January 2018 (pdf)

January2018MorningStarmap copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

All descriptions below are for mid-northern latitudes in the Northern Hemisphere. EST is Eastern Standard Time in North America.
EDT is Eastern Daylight Time in North America.

Below you’ll find a section about what to see in the EVENING SKY this month, followed by a section about what to see in the early MORNING SKY before dawn.

Below those sections you’ll find a list of dates this month where we point out specific things to look for on those days, along with other interesting information.

We hope you’ll find our night sky information fun and easy to use. Happy Stargazing!

 

 

THE EVENING SKY IN JANUARY

Once again this month there are no bright naked eye planets visible in the evening sky. Planet watchers will need to get up early to check out the planets visible in the predawn sky. See The Morning Sky in January below.

The stars and constellations of winter are well-placed for stargazers in the January evening sky. The easiest pattern to find is Orion with its three stars in a row marking the belt of the hunter figure. There is no other time of year when so many bright stars appear together in the evening sky.

Can you find Orion below?

Looking southeast at 8 p.m. on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Dec15-SE-10pm-NoLabels copy
Below is the same scene as above but with labels to help you identify what you’re looking at.

Once you find Orion, look for the bright stars that mark the Winter Circle or Winter Oval in red. Around that circle are all the major winter star patterns.

If you have a small telescope or a good pair of binoculars, check out the amazing views you’ll see when looking at the Pleiades Star Cluster and the Orion Nebula.

Looking southeast at 8 p.m. on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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The Pleiades Star Cluster
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The Orion Nebula
Use a telescope if you have one to see if you can make out the system of four “newborn” stars at the center of the nebula that form a trapezoid, known as the Trapezium.
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If you swing around and look to the north, see if you can find the bright stars of the Big Dipper standing on its handle.

Find the two stars at the front of the dipper’s “pan.” These are known as the Pointer Stars. If you draw an imaginary line through those two stars and continue past the top of the dipper, they’ll point to a special star called Polaris, otherwise known as the North Star (see below).

The North Star is not the brightest star in the sky as some believe. Instead, it’s special because the north pole of the Earth points close to that star. As the Earth spins on its axis each day, Polaris stays where it is in the sky and the nearby stars seem to rotate around it.

Polaris is also the end star in the handle of the Little Dipper. The stars of the Little Dipper are dimmer than those of the Big Dipper, and you’ll have to look closely to see them all.

If you continue the Pointer Stars line past Polaris, you come very close to the “W” shape pattern of stars known as Cassiopeia.

Be sure to use our Basic Evening Star Map to help you find your way around the evening sky.
Click HERE to Download our basic EVENING Star Map for January 2018 (pdf)

Looking north at 9 p.m. on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
NorthSky copy

 


 

 

 

THE MORNING SKY IN JANUARY

All of the naked eye planets are currently only visible in the morning sky. Mercury, the planet closest to the Sun will make an appearance the first half of the month before sunrise. Use a telescope or good pair of binoculars to catch a glimpse of tiny Mercury perched above the eastern horizon before the Sun rises. The planet gets progressively lower and harder to see as the month goes on. The ringed-planet Saturn sits near Mercury and the two planets get quite close together on January 13. (Scroll down the page to see January 13.)

Looking southeast an hour before sunrise on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan15Mercury copy

 

If you expand from the view above, you’ll notice a line up of bright objects this month. After finding Mercury and Saturn, you can extend an imaginary line to the upper right past a bright orange star called Antares, to the red planet Mars and giant Jupiter, out to the bright star Spica.

If you watch throughout the month, you’ll especially see Mercury and Mars change position relative to their neighbors.

On January 7 Jupiter and Mars get so close together you will be able to see both together at the same time in a small telescope. (Scroll down the page to see January 7.)

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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Turn and look toward the west in the morning. The pattern of Leo the Lion appears to be nose-diving out of the sky. If you can’t image the shape of a lion in those stars, look for what appears to be a coat hanger that has been run over.

Use our Basic Morning Star Map to help you find your way around.
Click HERE to Download our basic MORNING Star Map for January 2018 (pdf)

Looking west an hour before sunrise on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan15Leo copy

 

Face south and then look way overhead. Find the Big Dipper and notice how when you extend its curved handle it points to a bright orange star. That’s Arcturus. Just remember that you follow the “arc” of the handle of the Big Dipper to find Arcturus. Arcturus is the brightest star in Bootes the Herdsman. Most people seem to think Bootes looks more like a kite though.

If it’s dark enough you may also be able to pick out the fainter patterns of Corona Borealis or the Northern Crown and Hercules next to the crown.

Looking high overhead an hour before sunrise on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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You may also notice three very bright stars over in the east during January mornings. These are Vega, Deneb and Altair, the three stars that make up the Summer Triangle that dominates the evening sky during the summer months.

See our Basic Morning Star Map.
Click HERE to Download our basic MORNING Star Map for January 2018 (pdf)

Looking east an hour before sunrise on January 15. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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SCROLL DOWN TO SEE WHAT TO LOOK FOR ON SOME SPECIFIC DAYS THIS MONTH

BE SURE TO CLICK ON EACH SCENE BELOW FOR A FULL IMAGE.

 

January 1 MORNINGMercury is as high above the horizon as it will get this month.

Looking southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan1 copy

EVENINGFull Moon occurs at 9:24 p.m. EST. The Moon is now half way around the Earth in its orbit. The Earth is between the Moon and the Sun so we see the Moon fully lit.  We now see the Moon opposite the Sun in the sky, so as the Sun sets, the Moon rises.

You may hear today’s full moon referred to as a Super Moon. This is a relatively new term that has come up in the last few years to describe the full moon when it occurs at the same time as the Moon’s closest approach to the earth in its orbit. The difference between size and brightness of this full moon and any other will be difficult to detect however.

The January full moon is also known as the Wolf Moon. Sometimes it is also referred to as the Old Moon or the Moon After Yule. One Native story says that deep in the woods the howling of wolves can be heard echoing in the cold still air in January.
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January 4 MORNING The Quadrantid Meteor Shower peaks this morning.

The best time to try to catch these meteors will be the early morning hours. However, moonlight will wash out many of the meteors this year. Some of the brightest ones though may still be visible. Normally you could see up to 100 an hour from this shower, but because of the Moon you may only see around 10 or so this time around.

Remember, if you do go out, the early morning hours are always colder than you think, so make sure you dress warm.

Meteors are sometimes called “shooting stars” and of course they are not really stars, but pieces of debris the size of grains of sand or slightly larger. A meteor shower is caused by the Earth passing through the orbit or path of a comet. As comets move in their orbits around the Sun, they leave debris all along their orbits. These small pieces burn up in our atmosphere when we encounter them, causing the streaks of light that we see.
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January 5 MORNING The bright star to the lower right of the Moon this morning is Regulus.

Looking west an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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Over the next few days Mars will pass Jupiter in the morning sky. By January 7 they will be very close together in the sky. Watch closely over the next few mornings.

Keep an eye on Mercury and Saturn down near the horizon as well during the same time period. You’ll see them moving closer together too.

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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January 6 MORNING  Mars and Jupiter are very close together in the morning sky.

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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January 7 MORNING Mars and Jupiter are the closest together they’ve been in the sky since September 2004. Both planets should be visible together in a telescope if you have one. If not, try binoculars. This should be a very cool sight!

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan7MarsJupiter copy

 

 

 

 

 

January 8 MORNING   You’ll notice that faster Mars is now below Jupiter as it passes the giant planet.

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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Last Quarter Moon occurs at 5:25 p.m. EST. The Moon is three-quarters of the way around the Earth now. It appears half lit in the early morning sky; the lighted side always faces the Sun.
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January 9 MORNING The Moon is to the upper right of Mars and Jupiter this morning. It will pass the planets over the next few days. It should be quite a sight in the sky.

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan9MarsJupiter copy

 

 

 

 

 

January 10 MORNING Have you noticed how Saturn and Mercury down near the horizon have been getting closer together over the last few days?

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan10MarsJupiter copy


 

 

January 11 MORNING Check out the cool sight this morning with a crescent Moon making a triangle with Jupiter and Mars.

Can you see Saturn and Mercury near the horizon?

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan11MarsJupiter copy


 

 

January 12 MORNING  The Moon has now moved away from Jupiter and Mars and is heading toward Mercury and Saturn.

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan12MarsJupiter copy

 

 

 

January 13 MORNING Wow, look how close together Mercury and Saturn are this morning. Get out your binoculars!

Looking southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan13MercurySaturn copy

 

 

 

 

 

 

January 14 MORNING The Moon joins Mercury and Saturn this morning. A pretty sight!

Looking southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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January 15 MORNING  Use binoculars. Can you still see the little crescent Moon near the planets this morning?

Looking southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan15Mercury copy

 

 

 

January 16 EVENING   New Moon occurs at 9:17 p.m. EST.  The Moon is directly between the Earth and Sun and not visible. In a couple of days it will appear as a thin crescent in the evening as it pulls away from the Sun from our point of view. The crescent, or lit side of the Moon, always faces the Sun.
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January 24 EVENING   First Quarter Moon occurs at 5:20 p.m. EST. The Moon is one quarter of the way around the Earth and appears half lit in the evening sky. The lit part is facing the Sun.
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January 26 EVENING The bright star to the left of the Moon tonight is Aldebaran, the red eye of Taurus the Bull.

Looking south mid-evening. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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January 27 EVENING See last night above. The Moon has moved past Aldebaran.

Looking south mid-evening. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
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January 31 MORNING  Check out Mars and the bright star Antares. Antares means “rival of Mars”. Can you see that both are similar in brightness and color?

Looking south-southeast an hour before sunrise. Be sure to click on the scene below for a full image.
Jan31 copy

Full Moon occurs at 8:27 a.m. EST. The Moon is now half way around the Earth in its orbit. The Earth is between the Moon and the Sun so we see the Moon fully lit.  We now see the Moon opposite the Sun in the sky, so as the Sun sets, the Moon rises.

This is the second full moon this month. Some people call the second full moon in a month a Blue Moon.
fullThere will be a total lunar eclipse visible this morning before sunrise for mostly western North America. This is the first total eclipse of the Moon we’ve had since September 2015. The times for the eclipse are below. Where there is a dash instead of a time, the Moon will have set below the western horizon at that point. So you can see that in eastern North America, the moon sets before totality, so only a partial eclipse will be seen from there.
Lunar Eclipse Times copy
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