Happy (completely arbitrary start date) to the New Year!
I love calendars! But I’ve never really understood the evolution of the start date for the ‘New Year’. January, from the god Janus who looks forward and backwards, seems like a likely month to start the new year. But January was named when March was the beginning of the year (if I remember correctly). So, I’ve given up (for now) trying to figure this out.
Anyway, back to looking up….
January is time for holiday ‘leftovers’: a fuzzy comet from late last year, more brilliant planetary encounters, another occultation by the Moon, some meteors (which themselves are leftovers from a larger object!)……
On the morning of the first of of the year, Comet Catalina C/2013 US10, known as ‘Catalina’ to its friends, arcs past Arcturus on its way into the polar sky, getting higher above the horizon, but fading all the way. Catalina has two tails, visible in long exposures photos – one gas tail pointing outward from the Sun and a dust tail trailing the comet’s head. Use a finder chart and binoculars or telescope now and as this tiny fuzzy spot passes alongside the handle of the Big Dipper at mid-month.
After midnight on the 4th, if you like to be up and out after midnight, the Quadrantid meteors may put on a good show. This meteor shower doesn’t last long – peaking for only a few hours. At peak hours, there can be more than a meteor a minute. Sky and Telescope is calling it one of the two best meteor shows this year. But they also say the strongest stream should in the early morning of the 4th, unless it happens the night before over Europe! If you try to see this show, the rising crescent Moon won’t be much of a bother. Just keep it out of your line of sight and you’ll be fine (if the sky is clear).
Mercury tries to give us one bright planet in the evening sky, hanging low in the west-southwest through the 9th – no optical aid needed.
Flashy Venus welcomes exquisitely sublime Saturn to the morning sky. They have a close embrace on the morning of the 9th, when the two will fit nicely in a telescope’s view – not that you need a telescope to see how much brighter Venus is than Saturn. Once again, Saturn won’t offer a ring to Venus and they will go their separate ways. Saturn climbs up in the morning sky as Venus slides lower each week. Mars is already in the morning sky, much dimmer than Venus or Saturn, but easily seen without optical aid. Mars is still very small in a telescope, but that will change when the Earth pulls up across from Mars when Mars is opposite from the Sun in late May.
Getting up for these morning sky gymnastics is not so hard since it’s still dark very late in the morning, with the latest dawn occurring on the 8th.
Jupiter is highest during the post-midnight hours. In a telescope, it’s nearly as large as it gets, so it’s well worth any viewing you can manage any time it’s up.
More later this month about Aldebaran, the brightest star in Taurus the Bull, being occulted by a mostly full Moon on the evening of Tuesday the 19th.
Orion and the many sights of the winter sky around it are highest in the sky between 9 and 10pm in January.
Earth is a tiny bit closer to the Sun at this time of year, closest on the 2nd.
The International Space Station soars overhead in the pre-sunrise sky through the 24th.