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A Chilly Meteor Shower and the King of the Planets

January 2014 startrails Peter Michaud (Gemini Observatory), AURA, NSFVenus has been a brilliant point of light in the west after sunset for a few months, but in January it disappears on its way to becoming a morning object. Say good-bye to it on January 2 when the crescent moon floats just above Venus before it joins the sun.

Jupiter will be the planet to watch in January, shining at magnitude -2.7 in the constellation Gemini. Jupiter reaches opposition on January 5, rising at sunset and setting at sunrise. On this date, use a telescope to see the volcanic moon Io emerge from behind Jupiter. The other three Galilean moons are already stretched out in a line on the opposite side of the giant planet, from Europa to Ganymede to Callisto.

On January 14, the moon and Jupiter come within about five degrees of each other. The moon will reach full phase the next night. January’s full moon, the Wolf Moon, occurs at 8:52 pm PST on January 15, just three hours after apogee, when the moon is farthest from Earth in its orbit. Therefore, January’s full moon is the smallest of the year.

The moon has quite a few other notable encounters in January. On the 11th, Aldebaran and the moon will be near to each other as the moon edges into the Hyades star cluster in Taurus. On January 18, the moon will be to the lower right of the bright star Regulus in Leo. Just after midnight on January 23, the star Spica will be just below the moon with Mars a bit farther above them. On January 25, the moon and Saturn will be less than two degrees apart just before sunrise.

Starting around January 22, can you spot Mercury rising in the southwest after sunset until the end of the month? The crescent moon will be to the lower right of Mercury on January 31 after sunset. The sliver of a moon will be a challenge to spot at just 26 hours old.

Two other astronomical events of note for January include Earth reaching perihelion, its closest to the sun, on January 4, and the Quadrantid meteor shower that peaks on January 3. If you can brave the temperatures, it’s worth a look, with up to 90 meteors an hour possible at peak. The Quadrantids are named after an obsolete constellation named Quadrans Muralis. The location is now best described as the conjunction of Hercules, Bootes, and Draco.

(Photo: Star Trails over Gemini Observatory. Credit: Peter Michaud, Gemini Observatory, AURA, NSF)

HS_KellyWhittKelly Kizer Whitt loves clean, clear, and dark skies. Kelly studied English and Astronomy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and worked for Astronomy magazine. She writes the SkyGuide for AstronomyToday.com. You can follow her on Twitter at twitter.com/Astronomommy.

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