Happy New Year! January kicks off the Lunar Cycle with a New Moon taking place on Sunday January 2. The Young Crescent Moon will greet 2022 in the early twilight of January 3. Look for it very close to the SW horizon and watch it rise a little higher each evening. You can track its progress by locating it just below and then slightly above and to the left Jupiter on Jan 5 and 6. The First Quarter, Full, and Last Quarter Moons are slated for Jan 9, 17, and 25, respectively.
The Quadrantid Meteor shower will peak Jan 3 just after the New Moon so if the sky is clear, there will be optimal dark sky viewing for this event even though the peak will occur during daylight hours in North America. Like most meteor showers, an increased number of meteors may be observed in the day prior to and after the peak. The Quadrantids are named for the now defunct constellation The Mural Quadrant which was located between the handle of the Big Dipper, the head of Bootes the Herdsman and the tail of Draco the Dragon. If one traces the streak from a meteor and it leads to the area between the constellations listed, then it is more than likely one of the Quadrantids.
We have already mentioned that Jupiter will be low in the southwest at dusk. Venus will also be visible very close to the horizon at the same time as the young Moon, but after the first week of the month it will drop from view. With Venus approaching inferior conjunction* on Jan 8 (where it will be positioned just 4.8 degrees north of the Sun). As it approaches conjunction, Venus appears as only a 1 percent crescent of a full disk. Mercury, also near the SW horizon can be located just above the young crescent Moon on Jan 3 but it, too, will fade away by mid-month. Mercury will reach inferior conjunction* on Jan 23 and will emerge in the morning sky at the end of the month. (*When a planet is at inferior conjunction, it is located between the Earth and the Sun). Saturn can be located halfway between Jupiter and the young Moon shining at magnitude +0.7. The Ringed Planet will be lost in the Sun’s glare the last week of January.
This month’s morning planets begin with the singular appearance of Mars low in the southeast one hour before sunrise. If you spot the Red Planet, look to the right and see if you can see the red star Antares in Scorpio the Scorpion. When Mars is closer to the Earth, the pair are very similar in appearance although the planetary disk of Mars will not twinkle like the star Antares.
Venus will join Mars in the morning sky soon after its inferior conjunction on Jan 8. Mercury will also become a morning ‘star’ but it will be difficult to observe until early February.
Earth reaches perihelion on January 4, 2022 where it will be 0.983 AU (Astronomical Units) or 91.4 million miles from the Sun. One would not think of us being closer to the Sun during the advent of our coldest season in the northern hemisphere, but that is precisely where we are. The Earth’s 23.5 degree tilt accounts for the seasonal changes that occur across both hemispheres. We may be closer to the Sun now than in our summer, but the Earth is tilted away from the Sun. The Sun’s lower angle gives the northern hemisphere less direct sunlight and shorter daylight hours. This combination accounts for the cold winter temperatures we will see over the next few months.
Compiled by Ken Raisanen of WOAS-FM – information provided by Abrams Planetarium Sky Calendar, Michigan State University. More information and subscription information can be found on their website at http://abramsplanetarium.org/skycalendar/ or on Twitter at http://twitter.com/AbramsSkyNotes. Yearly subscriptions cost $12 and can be started anytime.
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