January 2015

January is a fairly normal month, being special with all the planets being visible for most of the month and a three shadow transit on Jupiter.

PLANETS...well, the ones visible with your naked eye

Planets you can see around Sunset – Mercury, Venus, Mars (SW)

Planets you can see throughout the night – Jupiter (EàW)

Planets you can see in the Morning – Jupiter (W), Saturn (SE)


Mercury – Is pretty low in the beginning of the month, but then makes an appearance from around the 5th to the 17th when it is far from the Sun and close to Venus (from our perspective).  Close to the Moon on the 21st.

Venus Venus is pretty visible in the post-sunset sky about 10˚ above the horizon until about 6pm.  Just look West after sunset and it will be the first “star” you see.  Close to the Moon on the 21st.

Mars – Look in the SW after sunset and look for the visibly red “star”. Get out before 8pm, since that’s about when Mars sets or is too low to be seen. Close to the Moon on the 22nd.

Jupiter – Jupiter is out throughout most of the night, starting after 9pm in the beginning of the month and just 6:30pm by the 31st. Look east after 6:30-9pm, and watch Jupiter move from the East to the South to the West by sunrise. If you know your constellations, look to the right of Leo.  Don’t forget the binoculars or telescope for the Galilean Moons and the cloud bands on its surface.  Close to the Moon on the night of the 7th. 

Saturn – Saturn rises in the SE around 5am at the beginning of this month, and rises earlier and higher as the month goes on eventually rising at 3am on the 31st. Close to the Moon (only 1˚ below!) on the 16th in the morning.


Full Moon – 4th (Visible all night)

7thClose Encounter – Moon, Jupiter – Get out after 8pm and look East for a Gibbous Moon with Jupiter 5˚ up and to the left. 

8th – 12th – Venus & Mercury – Look toward the SW (low on the horizon) and you’ll see Venus and Mercury within 1˚ of each other (that’s one pinky finger’s width when held at arm’s length) 

Last Quarter Moon – 13th (Visible from midnight into the morning)

16thClose Encounter – Moon, Saturn – Get out after 4:00am and look East for a very thin crescent Moon with Saturn 1˚ below (that’s one pinky finger’s width held at arm’s length.  By 6:30am, they’ll both probably be invisible to the naked eye, due to dawn’s light.

New Moon – 20th (darkest skies)

21stClose Encounter – Moon, Venus, Mercury – It’ll be tough, but if you get out after sunset (around 5pm) on this day, you might be able to catch Venus low on the Horizon and the very thin crescent Moon about 5˚ to the right. Mercury is also in the area, being about 3˚ below the Moon.  All are below the Horizon by 6 or 6:30.

22ndClose Encounter – Moon, Mars – Get out after sunset but before 8:00pm on the 22nd and look Southwest to find a very thin crescent Moon with Mars 5˚ to the left.  This should be easier to find than Venus & Mercury yesterday.

23rd – Jupiter’s Moons will have a rare triple shadow transit from 1:27 to 1:52 EST, so get out your telescope and witness this rarity.

First Quarter Moon – 26th (Visible until midnight)

CONSTELLATIONS... (see sky map link at the bottom for a Star Map for this month – or ask Mr. Webb)    Look straight up and you'll see...

After Sunset (sunset is around 5:00pm) – Perseus, Taurus, Auriga – Extra Challenge! Right in the middle of Perseus is an open cluster called Mel 20.  If you take binoculars and look around Perseus, you’ll see plenty of stars, but right in the middle where Mel 20 is, there are a lot more than you can see anywhere else in Perseus, hence they call it a cluster of stars.

Between Sunset and Midnight – Auriga, Taurus, Gemini

Midnight – Gemini

Early Morning – Bootes


Winter constellations:  Orion is easy to spot as he is rising in the East around 7:30pm.  You can use Orion to find many other winter constellations.

Using Orion:  Find Orion by looking for the three stars in a row that make up Orion’s belt in the East after sunset.  If you draw a line from the left (bottom) star to the right (top) star and keep going right about 20 degrees (about 2 fists at arm’s length) until you reach another very bright star, you will have reached the star Aldebaron in Taurus (the V).  Follow that line a little more (about another fist) and you’ll find the Pleiades.

Draw a line from the right (top) star in Orion’s belt to the left (bottom) star, and keep going left about 20 degrees (2 fists again), you’ll come to the brightest star in the sky – Sirius – part of Canis Major.

Above these three constellations are Gemini and Auriga.  The brightest stars in each of these constellations form a circle in the sky.  Going clockwise - Aldebaron (Taurus) – Rigel (Orion – bottom right foot) – Sirius (Canis Major) – Procyon (Canis Minor) – Castor & Pollux (Gemini) – Capella (Auriga).  It makes for great stargazing in the winter sky.

Use a sky map from www.skymaps.com to help you out.