January Sky chart. Northern Hemisphere gazer's guide

By , Director, The American Museum of Natural History, New York

All Month: Four planets stretch from the sun to the right in the morning sky. Too bad we can't see them in daylight; their machinations would be more interesting to watch. As it is, we will miss the first two, Venus and Mercury, entirely; they rise too late to be seen. But Saturn and Mars put on a fair show, especially from the 4th to the 8th, when the moon cavorts among them. Saturn and Mars are the only planets we can see with ease in January. Mars is still a bit dim, but its position relative to Saturn and Spica helps. Its more rapid easterly motion takes it closer to Saturn, which it passes in late February, but the best will come in late spring and early summer, when Mars's opposition (from the sun) makes it rival Jupiter in brightness. As for Jupiter itself, we have a fair shot at it during its waning days as an evening star, low in the southwest shortly after sundown, but it's too low for viewing late in the month.

Events in the calendar below are given in local time unless indicated otherwise.

Jan. 1: Moonlight welcomes revelers home this morning. The gibbous moon, rising after 10 tonight, is four days past full.

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Jan. 1-15: Best opportunity to find Halley's comet from mid-latitudes of the Northern Hemisphere, with no moonlight to interfere. The dim, small comet is drifting slowly to the right south of Pegasus. Better use binoculars; sweep below the head and neck of Pegasus. The comet sets about three hours after darkness begins on the 1st, about one hour on the 15th.

Jan. 2: Earth is nearest the sun for the year (perihelion).

Jan. 3: Last quarter moon, in Virgo, climbs up the sky after midnight with the spring stars, just ahead of bright Spica.

Jan. 4-7: Get up to see the morning moon parade past Spica and planets Mars and Saturn, moving out of Virgo, through Libra and Scorpius, and into Ophiucus. Spica is just behind the moon on the 4th, the moon is between Spica and Mars on the 5th, on the 6th between Mars and Saturn, and on the 7th passing below Saturn. Reddish Antares is the star to Saturn's right, in Scorpius.

Jan. 8: The moon is nearest earth (perigee) and rises just before dawn.

Jan. 10: New moon is in Sagittarius, at 7:22 a.m. Eastern standard time.

Jan. 12: If you see the slim crescent moon in tonight's sunset sky, you should still be able to see Jupiter near it. If not, look for the higher, brighter crescent tomorrow night.

Jan. 15: The crescent moon is east of the vernal equinox, just below the two easternmost stars of the Square of Pegasus.

Jan. 17: First quarter moon (at 5:13 p.m. EST) is south of Aries's bright stars just as it becomes dark.

Jan. 19: Venus has been dawdling along all month just a few degrees to the sun's right. Now it passes the sun (at superior conjunction) and enters the evening sky. But it will not be until April that it becomes a halfway decent evening star. The moon is at apogee.

Jan. 21: The Pleiades (the Seven Sisters) are to the right of the gibbous moon.

Jan. 22: Look right and left from the moon; Aldebaran is the yellowish star to the right; Pollux and Castor, in Gemini, are the ``twin'' stars to the left.

Jan. 24: Moonlight can't quite hide Pollux and Castor, very nearly in line with the moon and above it.

Jan. 25: The full moon (at 7:30 p.m. EST) is in Cancer.

Jan. 26-28: Leo hosts the moon. It passes above Regulus, the Lion's brightest star, on the 27th, below Denebola, the end of its tail, on the 28th.

Jan. 29: The moon slips into Virgo, passing above the autumnal equinox.

Jan. 31: The moon rises with Spica, Virgo's bright star, for the second time this month.

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