The Sky This Month – January 2017

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova on Dec. 23, 2016. A skinny gas or ion tail extends to the east of the blue-green coma. The comet is currently visible near the end of evening twilight. Credit: Jose Chambo

Comet 45P/Honda-Mrkos-Pajdusakova on Dec. 23, 2016. A thin ion tail extends to the east of the coma. The comet is visible in evening twilight through mid-January, then reappears after it swings around the Sun in late January and into February and March 2017. Credit: Jose Chambo at cometografia.es

“And now we welcome the New Year, full of things that have never been.”
Rainer Maria Rilke

1 January 2017. Begin the new year by counting your blessings, then strolling out after sunset to examine the dazzling sight of a slender crescent Moon within 5° of Venus in the southwestern sky.

2 Jan. Look for the Moon again in the southwestern sky. Tonight it’s just 4º from the planet Mars. Brilliant Venus lingers nearby. Venus shines at a breathtaking magnitude -4.4, while Mars reaches about magnitude +1.1, some 160 times fainter than Venus.

Venus, the Moon, and Mars in the WSW sky after sunset on New Year's Day 2017. Observers in the northern hemisphere can also see the three stars of the so-called SummerTriangle (Vega, Deneb, and Altair) to the north.

Venus, the Moon, and Mars in the WSW sky after sunset on New Year’s Day 2017. Observers in the northern hemisphere can also see the three stars of the so-called Summer Triangle (Vega, Deneb, and Altair) to the north.

3 Jan. The early morning of January 3 features a brief but sometimes spectacular meteor shower. Named after the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis, the Quadrantids often feature more than 100 meteors per hour, but the peak occurs over a brief 2-3 hour period, and often occurs during daylight hours. The radiant lies in northern Bootes, off the tip of the handle of the Big Dipper.  Take a look for these meteors after midnight. You never know what you’ll see. No optics required.

5 Jan. First Quarter Moon, 19:47 UT

8 Jan. Look for the periodic Comet 45/P Mrkos-Pajdusakova less than a degree to the west of the star θ (theta) Capricorni in the constellation Capricorn in the southwestern sky about 15-30 minutes after sunset. Venus lies about 5º to the west of the comet.  This map from Universe Today will show you where to look. Comet 45/P will be easily visible in binoculars but not visible to the unaided eye. The comet moves closer to the Sun and becomes invisible in the middle of January, but it returns to the sky in February and March 2017. Look for a complete observing guide for the comet at Cosmic Pursuits later this month.

12 Jan. Full Moon, 11:34 UT

12 Jan. Venus reaches greatest eastern elongation some 47° east of the Sun.

12 Jan. Jupiter reaches western quadrature and lies 90º to the west of the Sun in the early morning sky. The planet gets brighter, reaching magnitude -2.1 at the end of January, far brighter than any star. As the planet moves closer to Earth, its apparent size grows to 39″ by month’s end and its endlessly changing and immensely complex atmosphere reveals more detail in a small telescope.

15 Jan. The waxing gibbous Moon shines brightly less than one degree from the brilliant white star Regulus in the constellation Leo. The celestial lion, an anchor of the northern spring sky, rises a little earlier each night as the days slowly lengthen in the northern hemisphere.

19 Jan. Last Quarter Moon, 22:13 UT

19 Jan. The last quarter Moon forms a splendid and compact triangle with the bright planet Jupiter and the slightly less bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo.

The last quarter Moon forms a compact triangle with the bright planet Jupiter and the slightly less bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo in the southeastern sky on January 19, 2017

The last quarter Moon forms a compact triangle with the bright planet Jupiter and the slightly less bright star Spica in the constellation Virgo in the southeastern sky on January 19, 2017

19 Jan. Mercury reaches greatest western elongation some 24° from the Sun. The planet lies low and bright in the eastern sky before sunrise over the next week. Much fainter Saturn is west of Mercury.

Mercury and Saturn lie to the east of the bright star Antares in the southeastern sky before sunrise on January 19, 2017.

Mercury and Saturn lie to the east of the bright star Antares in the southeastern sky before sunrise on January 19, 2017.

24 Jan. Look for the waning crescent Moon in the eastern sky before sunrise. The Moon is joined by Mercury and Saturn.

28 Jan. New Moon, 00:07 UT

31 Jan. The slender waxing crescent Moon returns to the southwestern sky after sunset and forms a triangle with brilliant Venus and much fainter Mars. Use a pair of binoculars to examine the spectacle. Venus shines at magnitude -4.7, nearly as bright as it ever gets.

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