This Month’s Sky – January 2016

What’s Up in the Sky
AAA Observers’ January Guide
By Tony Faddoul


January’s Evening Planets:

Neptune is in Aquarius the Water Bearer until 9 PM, setting earlier every night until 7PM by the end of January. Uranus is in Pisces the Fish until 1 AM and setting earlier toward 11 PM through the month. Jupiter will be in Virgo the Virgin as of 10 PM, rising earlier every night until 8PM at the end of the month. Mercury is in Capricornus the Sea-goat for about one hour after sunset in the first half of January.


January’s Evening Stars:

The Winter Triangle will dominate the night in January: Sirius, the brightest star viewed from Earth, is in Canis Major the Great Dog, Betelgeuse is in Orion the Hunter, and Procyon is in Canis Minor the Small Dog. Spot Rigel in Orion, Capella in Auriga the Charioteer, Aldeberan in Taurus the Bull, and bright Castor and Pollux in Gemini the Twins. Also find the stars of con-stellations Andromeda, Cassiopeia, Perseus, Cepheus, Draco, Aquarius, Taurus, Pisces, and Ursa Major and Ursa Minor (the Big and Little Dippers).


January’s Morning Planets:

Venus will be up between Scorpio the Scorpion and Sagittarius the Archer as of 4 AM and later until 5 AM by the end of the month. Mars will be moving between Virgo and Libra as of 1 AM, lingering until sunrise. Jupiter can be seen in Virgo until sunrise. Mercury is in Sagittarius the Archer around 5 AM for about one hour during the second half of January. Saturn will be in Scorpio the Scorpion as of 4 AM until sunrise.


January’s Morning Stars:

The Winter Triangle of Sirius, Betelgeuse, and Procyon will be up until around 3 AM during January. Spot Capella in Auriga the Charioteer, Arcturus in Boötes the Herdsman, and Spica in Virgo, along with the stars of constellations Leo, Gemini, Hercules, Libra, Cancer, Orion, Corona Borealis, Cassiopeia, Cepheus, Draco, Perseus, Ursa Major, and Ursa Minor.


January Skylights

Jan 2   Last Quarter Moon at 12:30 AM

Jan 2   Moon at apogee (251,250 miles away)

Jan 4   Quadrantid meteor shower peaks, pre-dawn

Jan 9   New Moon at 8:30 PM

Jan 14 Moon at perigee (229,670 miles away)

Jan 16 First Quarter Moon at 6:25 PM

Jan 21 Capella, Moon, Betelgeuse, and Sirius line up (1:00 AM)

Jan 23 Full Moon at 8:45 PM                            

Jan 30 Moon at apogee (251,377 miles away)

Jan 31 Last Quarter Moon at 10:28 PM


 Times given in EDT.


First Meteor Shower of 2016, Quadrantids Peaks the Night of January 3-4


The New Year brings a nighttime display of shooting stars with the Quadrantids Meteor Shower from Jan 1-6. At its peak, typically 60 Quadrantids per hour can be seen, under perfect conditions and moonless, dark skies. However, the Moon will wash out some of the meteors this year, so only the brightest ones will be visible.

There is a very narrow window for watching the Quadrantids. The best viewing this year will be at their peak from midnight on Jan 3-4 until dawn.

Depending on your location and weather conditions, the number of shooting stars will vary between 25 and 40 per hour at the peak. The nights before and after the peak may also see a similar number of meteors.

Where does it get its name?

First seen in 1825, the Quadrantids Meteor Shower appeared to radiate from the constellation Quadrans Muralis. However, when the International Astronomical Union set the list of 88 modern constellations in 1922, Quadrans Muralis was excluded. For this reason, they are sometimes referred to as the Boötids, after the nearby modern constellation Boötes. The Quadrantids meteors are debris from asteroid 2003 EH1, burning up as they enter the Earth’s atmosphere. It takes about 5.5 years to orbit the Sun.

How can I view the meteor shower?

The Quadrantids are fast meteors with blue trails. If you trace their paths backward, they seem to originate from the northern part of the sky below the Big Dipper. But, you don’t need to know the constellations or to use a telescope or other visual aid to enjoy the meteor shower. These falling stars will streak everywhere across the sky, so it doesn’t matter where you look. Try to find a dark spot as far away from light pollution as possible, and hope for clear skies. Just look up, and enjoy.

Have a meteoric New Year!
International Astronomical Union