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What’s In January’s Night Skies

Planets

Venus is viewable in the early evening and through January will move from the Capricornus (The Sea Goat) Constellation to the Aquarius (The Water Bearer) Constellation. It’ll set at the beginning of the month at 09:36 pm (AWST) and by the end of the month at 09:18 pm (AWST). Mars can be seen in the early morning. The planet starts off at the beginning of January in the Libra (The Scales) Constellation as in an orange dot and rising at 02:26 am (AWST) and will move through the Scorpius (The Scorpion) Constellation and into the Ophiuchus (The Serpent-bearer) Constellation by the end of the month where the planet will set at 01:44 am (AWST).

Jupiter can be found in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation in our early morning sky this month. Jupiter will appear from the Sun’s glare halfway through the month and will rise at 03:31 am (AWST) by the end of January. Saturn can also be found in the Sagittarius (The Archer) Constellation in our early morning sky this month. Saturn will appear from the Sun’s glare in the last week the month and will rise at 04:25 am (AWST) by the end of month.

Uranus will be viewable in the evening in between the Constellations of Pisces (The Fish), Cetus (The Sea Dragon) and Aries (The Ram). At the start of January, the planet will set around 01:11 am (AWST) at the beginning of January and by the end of the month it’ll set around 11:08 pm (AWST). Neptune, the last planet in our Solar System is also viewable in the evening and is viewable in the Aquarius (The Water Bearer) Constellation. At the start of January, the planet sets around 11:02 pm (AWST) and by the end of the month it’ll set around 09:06 pm (AWST).

Venus and Neptune on the 15/01/20 at 08:30 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Uranus on the 15/01/20 at 08:30 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Mars and Jupiter on the 15/01/20 at 04:30 am. Image Credit: Stellarium

Conjunctions and Occultation

Conjunctions involve object(s) in the Solar System and/or more distant objects, such as a star. It’s an apparent phenomenon in which multiple objects which aren’t close together appear close in the sky and it’s caused by the observer’s perspective. An occultation is an event that occurs when one object is hidden by another object that passes between it and the observer.

  • 07/01/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Aldebaran (Where to look)
  • 11/01/20 – Conjunction of The Moon, Castor and Pollux (Where to look)
  • 14/01/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Regulus (Where to look)
  • 17/01/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Spica (Where to look)
  • 17/01/20 – Conjunction of Mars and Antares (Where to look)
  • 21/01/20 – Alignment of The Moon, Mars and Antares (Where to look)
  • 23/01/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Jupiter (Where to look)
  • 23/01/20 – Occultation of The Moon and Jupiter (Where to look)
  • 28/01/20 – Conjunction of The Moon and Venus (Where to look)

Astronomical Events:

Earth At The Perihelion

The Earth will be at its closest point to the Sun (at the perihelion), about two weeks after the December Solstice at 03:47 pm (AWST) on Sunday the 5th of January. The Earth will be 147,091,144 km away from the Sun that day and this occurs because the Earth’s orbit is elliptical. Approximately every 100,000 years, Earth’s orbital path changes from being nearly circular to elliptical. This is due to the gravitational influences of other planetary objects, particularly the Moon. The difference of the Earth’s orbital path from a perfect circle is known as its eccentricity. Also, the word Perihelion comes from ancient Greek, where peri means close and helios means the Sun.

Earth's orbit around the Sun changes. Earth is closest to the Sun in its orbit when its summer in the Southern Hemisphere. Image Credit: timeanddate.com

The Quadrantids Meteor Shower:

Meteor fireball break up. Image copyright: John ChumackThe Quadrantids are the first major shower of the year, and for those living in North America, much of Europe, and the majority of Asia you’ll be able to view them. Unfortunately, for us living in Australia and lower portions of South America and Africa, we won’t be able to view this shower as their radiant point (Where the shower appears to be coming from) is in the Northern Hemisphere’s sky.

The Quadrantids are an annual shower which has one of the highest predicted hourly rates of all the major showers (40-120 meteors per hour to be more accurate) and is comparable to August’s Perseids for the Northern Hemisphere and December’s Geminids for the Southern Hemisphere. The object that causes the Quadrantids was tentatively identified back in 2003 by Peter Jenniskens as the minor planet 2003 EH1, which could be related to the comet C/1490 Y1 which was observed by Chinese, Japanese and Korean astronomers some 500 years ago.

The name comes from the former constellation Quadrans Muralis, which was created in 1795 by the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande and which is now part of the Boötes Constellation. The meteor shower was first noticed in early January 1825, by Antonio Brucalassi in Italy who reported that “The atmosphere was traversed by a multitude of the luminous bodies known by the name of falling stars.” and that they appeared to radiate from the Quadrans Muralis Constellation. In 1839, Adolphe Quetelet of Brussels Observatory in Belgium and Edward C. Herrick who was in Connecticut independently suggested that the Quadrantids were an annual shower.

Quadrantid meteor shower radiant point. Image Credit: Stellarium

The meteor shower is active from the 28th of December through to the 12th of January with the peak being on the morning of the 5th of January. If you live in the Northern Hemisphere and want to view the Quadrantids, you need to get up at around 2 am and look towards the Boötes Constellation which is the radiant point for the shower and not far from the Big Dipper. This year the Moon is will be a Waxing Crescent, so people won’t have to deal with light pollution from the Moon.

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse:

On Saturday the 11th of January, a Penumbral Lunar Eclipse will occur where the Sun, Earth, and the Moon are imperfectly aligned and the Moon passes within Earth’s outer shadow (Called the Penumbra). Most Penumbral Lunar Eclipse cannot be easily distinguished from a usual Full Moon as at the maximum phase of the eclipse you’ll see the Moon turn a shade darker.

This is the first of four Penumbral Lunar Eclipse for 2020, and Perth will see three of them. The best place to see this eclipse is in Europe, Asia, Australia and Africa. The eclipse starts in Perth at 01:07 am (AWST), with the maximum phase occurring at 03:10 am (AWST) and the eclipse finishing at 05:12 am.

The Moon's Location at the time of maximum phase. Image Copyright: Stellarium Total Lunar Eclipse viewing map. Image Credit: timeanddate.com Total Lunar Eclipse diagram. Image Credit: Bob King and Starry Night

Things to Look at This Month:

The Pleiades:

The Pleiades star cluster, also known as Messier 45, the Seven Sisters and in Japan as Subaru, is a very young Open Star Cluster. The cluster contains hundreds of stars, of which only a handful are commonly visible to the unaided eye. The stars in the Pleiades formed together in a nebula around 100 million years ago and are 425 light-years away from our Solar System. In our skies, the Pleiades appear to the left of the Taurus Constellation and they are best viewed through binoculars or a wide-field Telescope.

The Pleiades on the 15/01/20 at 21:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium The Pleiades - Image credit: Wiki Commons
The Orion Nebula:

The Orion Nebula is a diffuse nebula situated north of Orion’s Belt (In the southern hemisphere) in the constellation of Orion. It is one of the brightest nebulae in our skies and is visible to the naked eye. Messier 42, as it’s also called, is located at a distance of 1,344 light-years away from our Solar System and is estimated to be 24 light-years across. The nebula has revealed much about the process of how stars and planetary systems are formed from collapsing clouds of gas and dust.

Orion Nebula on the 15/01/20 at 21:00 pm. Image Credit: Stellarium The Orion Nebula - Image credit: wallpaperswide.com
Winter Albireo:

Winter Albireo (H3945 and SAO173349) is a visual double star in the constellation Canis Major and is named by Sir John Herschel (son of Sir William) and sometimes referred to as “Herschel’s Lovely Double” or the “Southern Albireo”.

This is not a binary system, but two stars on the same line of sight. The primary star HIP35210 is a Supergiant, ‘citrus orange’ in colour and magnitude at +4.8 is much further away at ~6523 light years away compared to its companion star HIP35213 which is a ‘royal blue’ coloured star which at a distance of ~258 light-years away and magnitude +6.0. Both stars are actually close double stars themselves with narrow separation, not visible in our modest telescopes.

The orange star is a Supergiant over twice the diameter of Betelgeuse with a diameter of 2.6 billion km. It would encompass the orbit of Jupiter if in place of our Sun. It is also ~365,000 times brighter than the sun because of its size, however, it has a much cooler surface temperature of ~3 300 K.

The secondary star is a much smaller main sequence star at ~2.9 times the diameter of the sun and ~22 times the brightness with a much higher surface temperature of ~7 300K.

Winter Albireo on the 15/01/20 at 21:00pm. Image Credit: Stellarium Winter Albireo - Image credi: cs.astronomy.com
Tarantula Nebula:

The Tarantula Nebula is an Emission Nebula, found in one of our galaxy’s satellite galaxies, the Large Magellanic Cloud. The nebula is approximately 160,000 light-years away from our Solar System and is 300 light-years across.

An extremely luminous object, the Tarantula Nebula’s luminosity is so great that if it were as close to Earth as the Orion Nebula, the Tarantula Nebula would cast shadows and take up 20% of the horizon.

As one the most active starburst region known in the Local Group of galaxies, the Tarantula Nebula resides on the leading edge of the Large Magellanic Cloud where ram pressure is stripping, and the compression of the interstellar medium likely resulting from this is at a maximum.

Tarantula Nebula on the 15/01/20 at 21:00pm. Image Credit: Stellarium NGC 2070 Tarantula Nebula. Image Credit & Copyright: Peter Ward (Barden Ridge Observatory)
47 Tucanae:

47 Tucanae or NGC 104 is the second largest and second brightest globular cluster in Milky Way. The Globular cluster is 16,000 light years away from us and is located in Constellation Tucana (Named after the Tucan bird) and it’s a naked eye ‘star’ and clearly visible in binoculars as a ‘fuzzy blob’. 47 Tucanae contains at least 1 – 2 million stars and the cluster has a diameter of roughly 120 light-years and the stars are roughly 10 billion years old. The average distance between the stars at the centre is around 10% of a light year or more than 100 times the diameter of our solar system. In February 2017, indirect evidence for a likely intermediate-mass black hole in 47 Tucanae was announced.

47 Tucanae on the 15/01/20 at 21:00pm. Image Credit: Stellarium 47 Tucanae. Image Credit & Copyright: Mike O'Day

Phases of The Moon:

January 2020 Moon phases

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