Northants Skies - January 2018

Full Moon On 2nd January & 31st January
New Moon On 17th January


The January evening sky continues to be devoid of naked eye planets, however there is still a chance to catch the icy giant Uranus before it disappears below the south-western horizon.


Uranus remains amongst the zodiacal stars of Pisces the Fish.  At magnitude 5.8, the planet lies on the fringe of naked eye visibility from a dark site, however for most of us, binoculars are going to be required.  To get the best views, search out Uranus as early as possible in the evening, whilst it is at it’s highest.  By mid-January, the planet will set in the south-west around 12.30am and by the end of the month by 11.30pm.  The Moon will lie to the south of Uranus on the evening of January 23rd.


The outermost planet, Neptune remains in the constellation of Aquarius.  It is however very low down in the south-western sky after sunset, so is unlikely to attract much attention this month.


After putting on a dazzling display over recent months in the pre-dawn skies, Venus passes through Superior Conjunction on January 9th and is not on view this month.


The main planetary action this month is taking place in the south-eastern pre-dawn sky, with Mercury, Mars Jupiter before being joined right at the end of the month by Saturn.


The innermost planet, Mercury reaches Greatest Western elongation of 23 degrees on January 1st.  You will of course need an unobstructed south-eastern horizon to spot Mercury, however at magnitude 0 at the start of the month, it is reasonably bright enough to be an easy spot in the morning twilight.  At the start of January, Mercury rises at around 6.30am and at the time of the end of this apparition by mid-January at 7.00am.  A very challenging observation of the very thin waning crescent Moon lieing above and to the right of Mercury occurs on the morning of January 14th.


Mars & Jupiter spend the early part of January in close company culminating in their conjunction on the morning of 7th January.  By mid-January both planets rise shortly after 3am, giving the chance for a reasonable observing spell of both planets.  Jupiter is of course the brightest of the two at magnitude -1.9, its brilliant white point of light contrasting with the magnitude 1.3 reddish glow of Mars.  The waning crescent Moon will lie above both planets on the morning of January 11th, creating a rather nice photographic opportunity.

Following Solar Conjunction last month, Saturn will start to emerge into the morning twilight during the last few days of the month.  It will however be extremely low above the south-eastern pre-dawn horizon, making for a challenging observation.


For a couple of slightly different objects, why not see if you can locate the dwarf planet Ceres and Comet 2017 T1 Heinze.


Ceres reaches opposition on January 31st, shining at magnitude 7 placing it as a binocular object.  Ceres tracks westwards from Leo into Cancer during the month.


Comet 2017 T1 Heinze passes within 33 million kilometres of us on the night of January 4th/5th, when it will be moving rapidly through the constellation of Camelopardalis.  The comet will race across to the neighbouring constellation of Cassiopeia a couple of night later.  As a predicted ninth magnitude object, it should be visible through a small telescope.


Finally this month, the annual Quadrantid Meteor Shower reaches maximum activity on the night of January 3rd/4th.  Unfortunately the very near Full Moon will drown out all but the very brightest of this year’s meteors which appear to radiate from a point in the now defunct constellation of Quadrans Muralis (northern Bootes)