Looking to take up stargazing in the New Year?
The winter months, with darker and longer nights, are a brilliant time to start getting acquainted with the night sky. If you’re wondering what to look out for in January 2024, check out these five must-see astronomical events.
1. Quadrantid Meteor Shower Maximum (January 3-4)
The Quadrantid Meteor shower is one of the strongest of the year, with rates comparable with the Perseids (in August) and the Geminids (in December). It occurs annually at the beginning of January, and this year its peak will be on the night of January 3-4, when the Moon is around Last Quarter, so conditions are reasonably favourable. Peak activity is very short and easily missed, although the stream occasionally produces bright fireballs!
2. New Moon (January 11)
The New Moon makes January 11 an ideal time for stargazing, as the night sky will be at its darkest. For most northern observers, all the important circumpolar constellations of Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Cassiopeia, Draco and Cepheus will be visible. If you look south, you will be able to see the Orion Nebula within its namesake constellation – more on this below!
3. Mercury at Western Elongation (January 12)
On this day, Mercury will be at its maximum western elongation of 23.5 degrees from the Sun, which will make it easily visible above the horizon during sunrise in the Northern Hemisphere.
4. Moon at perigee (January 13)
On January 13, the Moon will be at its closest approach to Earth, appearing bigger and brighter in the night sky. If you’re looking to observe the Moon in its full glory, wait a few days until January 25, when the Full Moon arrives. Did you know that the January Full Moon is called ‘Wolf Moon’ by the various tribes in North America?
5. Orion Nebula
The southern sky is dominated by Orion, visible from nearly everywhere in the world and prominent during the northern winter months. Orion is highly distinctive, with a line of three stars that form the ‘Belt’. The three stars of the belt lie directly south of the celestial equator. A vertical line of three ‘stars’ forms the ‘Sword’ that hangs south of the Belt. With good viewing, the central ‘star’ appears as a hazy spot, even to the naked eye – this is because it is not a star at all, but the Orion Nebula. Binoculars reveal the four stars of the Trapezium, which illuminate the nebula.
About the Book
Night Sky Almanac 2024 is a beautiful month-by-month guide to the celestial events that will light up the night sky. Out now!