Every month, AY About You outlines the night sky in these easy to digest guides, highlighting the biggest and “brightest” celestial events to help better prepare you for stargazing activities; whether it is as simple as looking up when taking the dog outside, or as official as planning date night — we have you covered.
The dead of winter is one of my favorite times to gaze up the heavens and awe at the wonders of the universe. The air is cool, crisp and clear for some of the most vibrant displays, be it as dazzling as a meteor shower or as routine as a night under the moon.
This month features local astrophotography from Arkansan Tony Milligan. You can find more of his spectacular photos on his website, Captured in Time.
First Quarter: January 2
Full Moon: January 10*
Third Quarter: January 17
New Moon: January 24
*The full moon of January is often referred to as the Wolf Moon for the howling wolves of the winter month, which is more than likely a Native American origination (although some sources claim it derived from Anglo-Saxon origins).
Quadrantids Meteor Shower: 1/1 – 1/5
Peak Night(s): 1/3, 4
The Quadrantids is a better-than-average raining of meteors that gets the new year (and decade, depending on how you look at it) started off with plenty of resolutions to wish upon. Formed from the dust grains of the extinct comet 2003 EH1, the Quadrantids mists the night skies of early January with about 40-120 meteors per hour at its peak.
This year, the moon will rest at First Quarter during the shower’s duration, presenting good lighting conditions to view meteors. Look to the constellation Bootes at around 11 p.m. every night. The shower will last until the early morning hours.
Planets and Special Events
January 5: Earth at Perihelion
This month, the Earth reaches its annual point of perihelion, or closest approach to the Sun, in our oval-shaped orbit. During the course of one year, the Earth’s distance from its star varies by about 3 percent. When it reaches this nearest mile marker, the Sun is technically larger in the sky than at any other point in the year, but it is barely (if at all) noticeable to the naked eye.
January 20: Close Approach of Moon and Mars
The Moon and our red-blooded neighbor will make a close approach with one another this month, passing to just over 2 degrees of each other. The two will be visible in the constellation Ophiucus in the dawn sky, rising at around 4 a.m.
January 28: Close Approach of Moon, Venus and Neptune
Planets are a jealous lot, for just a few days after the Moon and Mars have a moment in our night sky, Venus and Neptune have a bout with our celestial satellite. The three will all pass within 3.5 degrees of each other, and become visible at around 6 p.m. in the constellation Aquarius. The moon and Venus will be visible with the naked eye, but Neptune will cost a pair of binoculars or a telescope to engage.
In the News
We first saw the first-ever image of a black hole. The first all-female spacewalk shattered space’s glass ceiling. Japan bombed an asteroid. Read about all this, and more, in an extensive recap of some of the biggest news to come out of space last year.
The best stargazing results are always going to be under the darkest of skies. So, if you can, find a place as far away from city lights as possible when checking out December’s night sky.
Dark Sky Arkansas has a fantastic interactive map of some of the best dark spots and observation sites around the Natural State.
Also, if you have not already, download an app to your phone that helps you find celestial objects and constellations in real-time. Sky Guide and Night Sky are both available for free and are extremely easy to use.
Astrophotography courtesy of Tony Milligan. All photography rights, other than those provided for use by AY About You, belong to him.