Since December 21st, when we thrilled at the close conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn in our southwest evening skies, sky-watchers have watched the gradual separation of the two planets. But in early January, we will get an added bonus of Mercury forming a neat triple conjunction with these two gas giant planets
In January’s first week Saturn and Jupiter extend their distance apart with Saturn then below and right of brighter Jupiter. Om January 7th Mercury joins them low in the southwestern twilight sky. On January 9th, Mercury will be below Saturn; while on the 10th, the three planets will appear to form a neat triangle. On January 11th, Mercury will be below and right of Jupiter. Try to spot the 3 planets within 30 minutes after sunset because they will be low to the horizon and will set by 6:15 pm local time.
Mercury will reach its peak altitude on January 23rd, but Saturn and Jupiter will be nearly lost in the glare of the Sun by then. We will see them again in the morning eastern sky later this year. Mercury however, will not set until 90 minutes after sunset on the 23rd, before beginning its apparent dip toward the Sun. Its relatively small orbit swings it out away from the Sun for only a short time, from our line of sight on Earth.
Mars will remain a great object to see all through January. It is well up in the southern sky as soon as darkness falls each night. Uranus may be spotted if one swings binoculars toward Mars around January 21st. Uranus will be just below Mars. A star about as bright as Uranus looks will be to the right of Mars. Do not confuse it for Uranus.
Venus is still seen, though lower his month, rising about 90 minutes before the Sun on New Year’s Day in the southeastern sky. On January 11th the thin crescent Moon rises just to the right of Venus.
Earths reaches perihelion in its orbit around the Sun on January 2nd. This is the point where Earth is closest to the Sun (91.4 million miles). Aphelion, the farthest point in its orbit occurs in July, when Earth is over 94 million miles from our Sun.