J A N U A RY S K Y W A T C H
by Maya del Mar
Januarys night sky is similar to that of December, for those of you who were able to find clear sky through clouds, rain and snow.
Saturn and Jupiter rise earlier and earlier, beginning with Saturn just after sunset. Bright Jupiter follows a couple of hours later. By early morning those two gas giants are both high in the sky. Saturn is between Taurus, marked by the bright orangish star Aldeberan, the Bulls Eye, and Gemini, which highlights two bright stars, Castor and Pollux. Saturn is goldish, and steadier and brighter than these stars which flank it.
Saturns rings are wide open now, probably visible with even a small telescope. Plus Saturn is closer to Earth now than it has been for 30 years.
The morning sky still shows activity. If you notice the sky before 6:30 every morning, you can watch brilliant Venus and dull red Mars separating, as Venus heads quickly towards the Sun. By the end of the month, Mars has climbed just above red-orange Antares, which means rival of Mars. This is a highly energetic pair!
Mars is still dim, but it is beginning to brighten, preparing for its spectacular summer show.
After it turns direct, Mercury becomes a morning planet. Mercury is usually difficult to see in the atmospheric haze close to the horizon, where it hangs out. However, on the early morning of January 30, we might spot it to the left of the wafer-thin old moon in the morning dawn.
The waning crescent moon joins Venus and Mars in the pre-dawn mornings on December 30, and January 27 and 28.
The waxing moon passes by Saturn on the nights of January 15-16, and the full moon joins Jupiter on January 18-19.
Four of the five inner planets are easily visible this month. If we are able to spot elusive Mercury in the dawn, we can see all five gracing the long night sky.