January Skies


Dogstar Observatory wishes everyone a prosperous and ‘dark sky’ new year.

January is a great month to get out and see the night sky. We had a string of beautiful nights the last week of December and hopefully it will continue into the new year.

We finally have a meteor shower this month that will not be drowned out by a bright moon. The peak of the Quadrantid shower occurs on the morning of 4th.  Even though we have a waxing gibbous Moon it will set around 3 AM leaving at least 3 hours with a dark sky. (Waxing because we are headed from new moon to full moon phase and gibbous because more than half but less than 100% if the Moon’s surface is illuminated). The Quadrantid name is derived from the ancient constellation Quadrans Muralis. The nearest modern constellation is Bootes, the herdsman. The average peak rate of meteors is 120 per hour so if the skies are clear and you stay up late you are likely to see at least a few. Remember that don’t need any equipment to observe a meteor shower – just your eyes and a dark sky.

In the planet department, Jupiter and Venus anchor the southeastern and southwestern skies just after dusk. Venus is headed toward maximum elongation when it is furthest from the Sun and highest in the sky at dusk. On the evening of the 12th, Venus will pass within 2 degrees of Neptune. If you have not observed Neptune, get out the binocs and with Venus centered in the view l00k for the much dimmer Neptune just above it and to the right. Neptune should look noticeably different from nearby stars with a light greenish tint. On the 26th Venus will be within 7 degrees of the waxing crescent Moon. If you observe Venus through a small telescope you will see it slowing go through phases just like the Moon over the next weeks and months.

Once Venus sets the sky is left to the moon and Jupiter to keep the celestial show going. You can’t miss Jupiter high in the evening sky all month. Jupiter is second only to Venus in the planetary brightness department. Be sure to look at Jupiter on the evening of the second when  it will pass within 5 degrees of the Moon around 10 PM EST.

Mars is nearing opposition and will be growing in apparent size in brightness leading up to the event in March. It will look like a pale orange tinted start rising in the east after 10 PM in early January and by 8 PM later in the month.

Thats all the highlights for this month. Please post comments here or send an email if you have any questions about the night sky.

Jim Stratigos

Resident Astronomer



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