For those well north of the equator, January’s long nights provide lots of time to enjoy the starry sky — and the stars of winter are spectacular! This month’s celestial highlights include a close pass of Saturn and Venus, a strong meteor shower, and much more. Our fun and factual Sky Tour podcast provides all the details.
You might think that the Sun and Earth are closest in June or July, when it’s hot here in the Northern Hemisphere. But actually, it’s just the opposite. We’re farthest from the Sun in early July — and closest on January 4th!
As January opens, you can see four bright planets in the sky after sunset, but you’ll have to look carefully to spot two of them. Make note of where the Sun goes down, and then look in that same area beginning about 30 to 45 minutes after sunset. You should be able to pick out Venus very low above the horizon. As the twilight deepens, the planet Saturn will pop into view to the upper left of Venus.
Night by night, Saturn drops deeper into the twilight, and Venus rises a little higher. On the evening of January 22nd, these two planets will pass each other just ½° apart — about the apparent diameter of the Moon. And one evening later, a very thin crescent Moon will perch to the upper left of these paired planets.
By month’s end, you won’t find Saturn no matter how hard you try. But Venus will just be getting started on a long evening appearance that will last through late July.
Over in the east, the distinctive bright stars of Orion, the Hunter, seem to be leaping up from the eastern horizon. There’s a bright planet above Orion, higher up by about three times the width of your clenched fist held at arm’s length. And which planet is that? Listen to this month’s Sky Tour episode to find out!
This time of year features two easy-to-spot star clusters — the Hyades and Pleiades — that are situated above Orion in the eastern sky at nightfall. Both of these are very pretty by eye, and the Pleiades look terrific when viewed through binoculars or a low-power telescope. Follow along as Kelly Beatty, your host on Sky Tour, describes the why and how of these clusters, plus their mythological representations.
If your New Year’s resolution is to do more stargazing, our monthly astronomy podcast is a great place to start! Each month’s episode is designed to provide a pleasant, casual, and yet informative romp across the nighttime sky. No experience or equipment is needed! Instead, all you need is a little curiosity, a clear sky, and the Sky Tour podcast.