Find out what to go out and look at this month
Three planets Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn will be visible after twilight in January, but Mercury and Saturn disappear in the middle of the month, leaving only Jupiter. Mercury will at the start of the month very low in the Southwest, moving from the constellation of Sagittarius (The Archer) and into the constellation of Capricornus (The Sea-Goat) in the first week before disappearing into the Sun’s glare. Mercury will reappear in the early morning in the last week of January. Mercury will also have its greatest elongation in the West on the 7th of January, it’ll begin to make its way back towards the Sun from that day. Venus will reappear from the Sun’s glare in the early morning during the middle of the month in the constellation of Scutum (The Shield) and by the end of the month it will be rising 03:36 am (AWST).
Mars is low in the east in the early morning. It’ll move from the constellation of Ophiuchus (The Serpent-Bear) into the constellation of Sagittarius just after the middle of the month in the early morning. On the 1st of January, a very thin crescent Moon will be very close to Mars with an occultation be seen from Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne. Jupiter is low in the western sky in the constellation of Aquarius (The Water-Bearer). At the start of the month, Jupiter will set at 10:16 pm (AWST) and by the end of the month, it will set at 8:37 pm (AWST). Saturn is low in the west in the constellation of Capricornus. At the start of the month, Saturn will set at 09:19 pm (AWST)
Uranus can be found in the evening sky in the constellation of Aries (The Ram). At the beginning of January, Uranus will set at 01:33 am (AWST) and by the end of the month, it’ll set at 11:31 pm (AWST). Neptune will be viewable as well in the evening between the constellation of Aquarius and the constellation of Pisces (The Fish). At the start of January, Neptune will set at 11:12 pm (AWST) and by the end of the month, it will set at 9:16 pm (AWST).
Conjunctions And Occultations:
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.
- 01/01/22 – Occultation of The Moon and Mars as seen in Adelaide, Canberra and Melbourne (Where to look)
- 06/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon and Jupiter (Where to look)
- 05/01/22 – Alignment of The Moon, Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn (Where to look)
- 06/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon and Jupiter (Where to look)
- 10/01/22 – Conjunction of Mercury, Jupiter and Saturn (Where to look)
- 11/01/22 – Alignment of The Moon, Venus, Mars and Antares (Where to look)
- 11/01/22 – Conjunction of Mercury and Saturn (Where to look)
- 12/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon, Venus and Mars (Where to look)
- 13/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon, Aldebaran and the Pleiades Cluster (Where to look)
- 18/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon, Castor and Pollux (Where to look)
- 21/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon, Regulus and Al Jabhah (Where to look)
- 25/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon and Spica (Where to look)
- 28/01/22 – Conjunction of Moon and Antares (Where to look)
- 29/01/22 – Alignment of The Moon, Venus, Mars and Antares (Where to look)
- 30/01/22 – Conjunction of The Moon, Venus and Mars (Where to look)
Comet A1 Leonard:
Comet A1 Leonard (C/2021 A1 Leonard) didn’t become the naked-eye comet we hoped for in December, but it’s amazing to see in a telescope or binoculars and it’s also looking great for astrophotographers. If you’re in completely dark skies, you can see it with averted vision.
The comet is on an 80,000-year retrograde orbit and unfortunately, this is its last orbit around the sun as it’s due to be ejected from the solar system after this perihelion passage where it’ll be 0.62 AU from the Sun and just inside Venus’s orbit on the 3rd of January 2022.
The Astronomer Gregory Leonard, working at the Mount Lemmon Observatory near Tucson Arizona discovered the comet on the night of January the 3rd 2021. The first long-period comet of 2021, the discovery was exactly one year to the day prior to perihelion. The comet at the time was 5 astronomical units away (about the distance of Jupiter from the Sun) and its brightness was mag +19 when he discovered it. Early indications had hinted that the comet might prove to be something special at the end of 2021.
The Comet Leonard will start to fade throughout January as it starts its journey out of the Solar System, so make sure you take some time to view the comet in early January.
Earth At Perihelion:
The Earth will be at its closest point to the Sun (at the perihelion), about two weeks after the January Solstice at 03:00 pm (AWST) on Sunday the 4th of January. The Earth will be 147,105,052 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 in 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.
The Quadrantids Meteor Shower:
The 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 that has one of the highest predicted hourly rates of all the major showers (40-120 meteors per hour to be more accurate) and it’s comparable to August’s Perseids for the Northern Hemisphere and January’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 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.
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 3rd 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 will be in it New Moon phase, so people won’t have to deal with it’s light pollution.
Things To Look At This Month:
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 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.
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.
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 of the most active starburst regions 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.