STAR TRAK for January 2012

Jan 05, 2012
Venus. Photo courtesy of NASA

The planets Venus and Jupiter will dominate the sky as darkness falls during January. Jupiter will be twice as bright as any star, and Venus will be four times brighter than Jupiter.

Venus will be well up in the west-southwest an hour after sunset at the beginning of the month, a brilliant "evening star." By month's end it will be 10 degrees higher at the same stage of twilight and set more than three hours after the sun.

will blaze more than halfway up the southeastern sky as night falls in January. It will reach its highest point in the south several minutes earlier each night, and by month's end it will be at maximum elevation when it appears around sunset. It will remain visible throughout January until midnight local time.

Saturn will rise before 1 a.m. local time by the middle of January and appear halfway up the southern sky by daybreak. The best time to view it with a telescope will be just before the start of morning twilight, when it will be highest in the southeast. Its rings will be tilted 15 degrees to our line of sight, and details of the rings such as the Cassini Division will be visible with a telescope.

Mars will nearly double in brightness this month as Earth moves significantly closer to the red-orange planet. It will rise after 10 p.m. local time at the beginning of the month and two hours earlier by month's end. For the best telescopic views, wait until after 2 a.m., when Mars will be high in the .

Mercury will appear about 10 degrees above the southeastern horizon a half-hour before sunrise at the beginning of the month, to the lower left (east) of the bright orange star Antares. Binoculars will help you spot them in the . Mercury will sink lower each morning, disappearing by the middle of the month.

Meteor shower

The is active for the first week of January, having peaked during the hours before dawn on Jan. 4. The waxing gibbous moon will interfere with the display until it sets around 3 a.m. local time, when viewing conditions under a clear sky will be good for the rest of the night. The rate of this shower varies considerably and unpredictably from year to year, but observers may see up to 100 meteors per hour during the brief peak.

The Quadrantids will appear to come from a point called the radiant near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, which will rise in the northeast. The radiant is in the constellation Bootes the Herdsman, which contains the bright orange star Arcturus as a conspicuous marker.

Try facing northeast toward the Big Dipper. If you extend the curve formed by the handle's three stars, it forms an "arc to Arcturus." Meteors should be visible in all parts of the sky, but the higher Arcturus is above the eastern horizon, the more meteors there will be. More information about viewing meteor showers, including the Quadrantids, is available from the American Meteor Society at www.amsmeteors.org/showers.html .

Perihelion

Earth will reach the closest point to the sun in its orbit, the position called perihelion, on Jan. 4 at 7 p.m. EST (0:00 Universal Time on Jan. 5). A common misconception is that our seasons are caused by Earth's changing distance from the sun. The actual cause is the tilt of Earth's axis. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter happens when the North Pole is tilted away from the sun, so sunlight must pass through a greater amount of Earth's atmosphere to reach the surface. We experience the coldest time of year when we are closest to the sun.

Explore further: Venus Express spacecraft, low on fuel, does delicate dance above doom below

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

STAR TRAK for January 2011

Jan 04, 2011

As the new year begins, Jupiter will be the only planet visible after sunset, about halfway up the sky in the south-southwest. It will dominate the evening sky as the brightest object in view. January will ...

STAR TRAK for January

Jan 05, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Once every 26 months or so, Mars comes closest to Earth in its orbit around the sun. That time has come again. Mars will reach opposition on Jan. 29, meaning it will be opposite the sun in ...

Saturn dominates the night sky in January

Jan 04, 2007

The highlight of January will be the planet Saturn, which will rise in the east around 8 p.m. local time at the start of the month and two hours earlier by month's end. The planet with the famous rings will ...

STAR TRAK for December

Dec 01, 2011

Venus will be at its dazzling brightest as December begins, appearing in the southwestern sky after sunset. This beautiful "evening star" will set two hours after the sun on Dec. 1 and an hour later at month's end.

STAR TRAK for May 2011

May 06, 2011

The closest gathering of four bright planets in decades will be on display low in the eastern sky before dawn during May.

Recommended for you

Orion on track at T MINUS 1 Week to first blastoff

3 hours ago

At T MINUS 1 Week on this Thanksgiving Holiday, all launch processing events remain on track for the first blast off of NASA's new Orion crew vehicle on Dec. 4, 2014 which marks the first step on the long ...

Bad weather delays Japan asteroid probe lift off

9 hours ago

Bad weather will delay the launch of a Japanese space probe on a six-year mission to mine a distant asteroid, just weeks after a European spacecraft's historic landing on a comet captivated the world.

Manchester scientists boost NASA's missions to Mars

18 hours ago

Computer Scientists from The University of Manchester have boosted NASA space missions by pioneering a global project to develop programs that efficiently test and control NASA spacecraft.

User comments : 0

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.