Winter nights come early this time of year because the Sun appears to set (and does) quite early each day. Earth’s tilt has brought winter to the Northern Hemisphere. But early winter sunsets bring nice views of several planets this month.
On January 1st, Venus dazzles in the south-western sky 25 minutes after sunset. Meanwhile, Saturn, gradually appearing to descend toward twilight all month, will be seen just above the much brighter Venus on January 22nd. This close conjunction is a “must see” event this month! Saturn will be behind the Sun to our line of sight next month, but will re-emerge to us in the morning sky later this year.
If you have binoculars look just right of Venus on January 1st, 25 minutes after sunset, to catch a glimpse of Mercury. Mercury’s orbit will bring it into the morning eastern sky by mid-month. On January 19th look for it just a bit east (left) of the waning crescent Moon. Between January 25th and 31st, Mercury brightens and gains altitude among the stars of Sagittarius around 6:45 am (EST) (local time) in the south-east.
Jupiter is bright in the southwest evening sky all month. A 4 day old crescent Moon passes just below the planet on January 25th. Mars shines brightly high up among the stars of Taurus just a bit east (left) of the Pleiades (open star cluster). The waxing gibbous Moon and Mars are close to each other on January 30th.
The Quadrantids meteor shower, normally a usually good winter event is affected this year by the Full Moon on January 6th. The Quadrantids (named after a now defunct constellation) are found in what is now the constellation Bootes (warrior/herdsman), and peak on January 3rd/4th. Though the hourly rate of meteors average 40 to 60 and sometimes reach 100, this month’s bright Moon will lower that number. Worth trying though; look east the morning of January 4th an hour before sunrise.