Night Sky Notes – January 2019

Sky notes for January 2019   Geoff Mitchell

The January night sky now sees some familiar winter constellations rising by early evening. The brighter planets are confined to pre dawn skies with Uranus and Neptune being the only telescopic planets in the early evening skies, Thewinter night sky contains many fine objects to view with both binocular and small telescopes.

There is a Total Lunar Eclipse (pre dawn) on the morning of January 21st (beginning at 04:40, mid eclipse 05:12 and totality ends 05:43) – the Full Moon enters the Earth’s Umbra (shadow) during the eclipse, turning a copper red colour.

The January Full Moon occurs when the Moon is nearest to Earth making this a Perigee Moon (Super Moon) i.e.slightly brighter and marginally larger in apparent size than normal. Watch the `Moon Illusion ` effect at Moonrise and Moonset around January  21st , best seen with foreground objects such as trees or buildings , the rising / setting Moon `appears to the observer` to be larger in size – an optical illusion .  


The red planet Mars is also visible unmistakably red in colour low in the south west in evening skies, but presents atiny telescopic image. The planet Uranus is also placed in evening skies in the constellation of Pisces, visible as tiny greenish disk in moderate telescopes.

The constellations of Cygnus and Lyra can be seen slipping into the west early evening; these are noted for the bright stars of Deneb and Vega which appears low in the north by late evening , both stars are circumpolar , i.e. are above the horizon from UK latitude .

The Milky Way stretches from the constellation of Auriga , marked by the bright star Capella in the east up intoPerseus and through the `W` shaped constellation of Cassiopeia high overhead and down along the cross shaped constellation of Cygnus low in the west . This faint band of stars best seen on dark moonless evenings

Auriga has the bright star Capella, which is circumpolar from UK latitudes and so is always visible. The constellation of Auriga contains some nice star fields and star clusters visible in binoculars.

In the south west the constellation of Pegasus, noted for its `Square ` shape and the adjacent constellation of Andromeda noted for The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) , visible to the unaided eye as a faint fuzzy patch on moonless evening can now be seen mid evening .  The Square of Pegasus is a useful sign post constellation and also is a good test for sky conditions, (how many faint stars you see within the square is indicates just how good you’re seeing conditions are). Follow the two end stars (Scheat and Markab) down to find the star

In the north Ursa Major, The Plough or The Great Bear is seen low with its handle or tail parallel to the horizon mid evening. Use the right hand pair of stars Dubhe and Merak (The pointers) to find the faint pole star Polaris and hencethe position of North.

Look to the east early evening to see the seven sisters’ (Pleiades, M45) star cluster and constellation Taurus .The Hyades star cluster makes the characteristic `V` shaped asterism in the constellation of Taurus and is noted for the bright, red foreground star Aldebaren in Arabic Al Dabaran is `The follower ` of the Pleiades across the skies `, in old English known as Oculus Tauri, `the eye of the bull`.

By  mid evening the familiar winter constellations of Orion (The Hunter) is rising with bright red star Betelgeuse (top left) , white star Rigel (bottom right ) and the three stars of Orion’s  belt Mintaka , Alnilam and Alnitak . Below Orion’s belt can be seen the misty patch that is M42 / M43, visible to the unaided eye, it is one of the gem’s of the winter skies when seen with a telescope. This nebula some 30 light years across is illuminated by a group of four hot young stars that is known as the `Trapezium `asterism, visible under moderate magnification.

The Quadrantids meteor shower reaches maxima in the early hours of January 4th. With favourable moonless conditions up to 50 meteors / hour, watch these blue/ yellow meteors on evenings over the period January 1st to January 8th when moonlight begins to interfere again.

Short period Comet  46P [Wirtanen ] passed within 12 million Km of Earth in mid December and in January remains a binocular `fuzzy` patch located in the front `paws` of the constellation of Ursa Major – See notes  .  Another faintershort period Comet 38P [Stephan –Oterma] is telescopic in the constellation of Lynx.

Planets in January 2019

Mercury is visible in dawn twilight up to mid month, reaching superior conjunction on Jan 30th.

Venus is visible in dawn twilight shining brightly at -4.4m, greatest elongation (dichotomy /50% phase) Jan.6th.

Earth reaches perihelion, its closest point in its orbit to the Sun on January 3rd distance 147,099,766 km.

Mars is visible in evening skies 0.8m magnitude, its apparent size just 6.3 by late January.

Jupiter shines brightly in pre dawn skies with Venus, separation 2.5° on January 22nd (Same binocular field of view.

Saturn at conjunction Jan 2nd is poorly placed low in our dawn skies by month end.

Uranus is visible early evening in the constellation of Pisces. (Binocular / Telescope required).

Neptune is located in Aquarius (Binocular / Telescope required). The constellation of Aquarius is positioned low in the west early evening

Moons phases in January 2019

New Moon Jan 6th​ ​Moonless, best time for deep sky observing.          

First Quarter      14th ​​Best days to see shadow details in lunar craters (early evening)                              

Full Moon     Jan21st​​Best days to see bright ray craters like Copernicus / Tycho.            

Last Quarter    Jan 27th​​Moon visible in daytime skies.  Do not look directly at the Sun.

Meteor shower s

Quadrantids range Jan 1st to Jan 8th*, Max Jan 4th ZHR 50+ / hour * favourable moonlight.

The highlights of the month.

Total Lunar Eclipse (early morning mid eclipse 05:12 GMT) – One for the night owl’s.  

Milky Way is visible high overhead on moonless evenings in darker skies.(Dark site away from lights.)

M31 the Andromeda Galaxy is visible on moonless evenings, best seen in binoculars.

Double cluster, on the Perseus /Cassiopeia border, nice pair of star clusters in the same telescope field of view..

Pleiades (Seven Sister’s) star cluster (M45) rising in the east best seen with binoculars.

Orion Nebula (M42) is a beautiful sight seen telescopically.

Beehive cluster (M44) visible to the unaided eye but best seen with binoculars.

Crescent Moon visibility, Jan 6th 0.3% ultra thin crescent Moon sets 16:37 GMT within half a hour of sunset.

(Caution, always wait until the sun has completely set below the horizon before looking for crescent Moon)

Jan 7th a more favourable 2.3% crescent Moon with Earthshine visible after sunset , moon set 17:35 GMT

Comet 46P [Wirtanen]  – low surface brightness – see notes (Binocular / telescope required)

More detailed sky notes and LAS Newsletters, Finder charts are available to LAS members via the Members` page and details of planned Public open observing evening(s) please refer to LAS Website  

Sky looking south 8 pm early January 2019

                               7 pm mid January 2019

  6 pm late January 2019

        Orion rises easily recognised by the three belt stars , the red giant star Betelgeuse (top left) and the white star Rigel (bottom right).  Follow the belt stars downward to the find Sirius the brightest star in our night skies and follows a line upward from the belt stars to find the red giant star Aldebaren in the constellation of Taurus.

Taurus is easily spotted from the `V` shaped  asterism  part of the Hyades star cluster , the closest star cluster to Earth at a distance of 150 light years , Aldebaren by contrast is a foreground star just 65 light years distant.

Sky looking east at 8 pm early January 2019

                   7 pm mid January 2019

     6 pm late January 2019  

The constellations of Taurus, Auriga, Gemini and Orion can be seen rising early evening in January. The three stars Sirius, Procyon and Betelgeuse form the Winter Triangle asterism.

The Seven Sister’s cluster (M45, Pleiades) is an easily identified star cluster. Some people with keen eyesight may see up to 13 stars (how many stars can you see with unaided eye?), but a telescope will show over 400 faint stars in the cluster.  Circle represents the approximate field of View (FOV) of a 10x 50 binocular / Finderscope.

Sky looking north at 8pm early January 2019

       7pm mid January 2019

       6pm late January 2019

The Plough stands on its handle follow the pointer’s Dubhe and Merek to find the polestar Polaris

The `W` shaped constellation of Cassiopeia looks more like a `M` and is on the opposite side of the polestar to the Plough.

Finder chart for binocular comet  Wirtanen

        Sky looking west at 8 pm early January 2019

              7 pm mid January 2019

6 pm late January 2019