What’s Up: January 2021 Skywatching Tips from NASA

By  //  January 1, 2021

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WHATS UP IN THE SKY for January

ABOVE VIDEO: What are some skywatching highlights in January 2021? Mark Earth’s closest approach to the Sun for the year, called perihelion, at the start of the month, then spot a couple of elusive planets: Uranus on Jan. 20th and Mercury throughout the second half of the month.

(NASA) – What’s Up for January? Earth reaches its closest approach to the Sun for the year, plus chances to spot two elusive planets later in the month.

Earth reaches the closest point in its elliptical orbit around the Sun, called perihelion on January 2. The Sun won’t appear noticeably larger in the sky – only about 3% larger. (Of course, you should never look at the Sun without proper eye protection. Remember, sunglasses are not sufficient for viewing the Sun.)

The distant, outer planet Uranus is too faint for most of us to see with the unaided eye, and it can be tough to locate in the sky without a computer-guided telescope. But on Jan. 20, Uranus will be located right between the Moon and Mars.

Look for Mercury in the last two weeks of January. You’ll need a clear view toward the west, as Mercury will appear just a few degrees above the horizon.

Here are the phases of the Moon for January.

Daily Guide

January 2-3, 2021
On Saturday morning, Jan. 2, 2021, the Earth will be at perihelion, the closest the Earth gets to the Sun in our orbit. Between perihelion and six months later when the Earth is at its farthest from the Sun (aphelion) there is about a 6.7% difference in the intensity of the sunlight reaching the Earth. This is one of the reasons the seasons in the southern hemisphere are more extreme than in the northern hemisphere. Perihelion is also when the Earth is moving at its fastest in its orbit around the Sun, so if you run east at local midnight, you will be moving about as fast as you can (at least in Sun-centered coordinates) for your location.

On Saturday night into Sunday morning, Jan. 2 to 3, 2021, the bright star Regulus will appear near the waning gibbous Moon. Regulus will rise in the east-northeast to the right of the Moon (at 8:44 p.m. EST). The Moon will reach its high point at 3:47 a.m. Sunday, and morning twilight will begin around 6:24 a.m. EST.

The annual Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to peak in the early morning hours Sunday. This year moonlight will interfere with viewing these meteors.

Sunday at around 5 a.m. EST (2021-Jan-03 10:02 UTC with 19 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2020 YA1) will pass the Earth at between 4.0 and 4.1 lunar distances (nominally 4.0), traveling at 8,260 miles per hour (3.69 kilometers per second).

January 4-5
For latitudes similar to the Washington, D.C. area, ignoring daylight savings time, Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 4 and 5, 2021, are tied for the latest sunrises of the year (with sunrises at 7:26:56 a.m. EST).

Monday evening, Jan. 4, 2021, will be the first evening the planet Mercury will be above the horizon about 30 minutes after sunset, an approximation of when Mercury may begin to be visible against the glow of dusk in the west-southwest after sunset.

January 6-7
Wednesday morning, Jan. 6, 2021, the waning Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its last quarter at 4:37 a.m. EST.

Thursday morning, Jan. 7, 2021, the bright star Spica will appear to the left of the waning crescent Moon. The Moon will rise after Spica in the east at 1:15 a.m. EST, with Spica to the right, and the pair will appear to separate as the morning progresses, with morning twilight starting at 6:24 a.m.

Thursday evening will be the last evening the planet Saturn will be above the horizon as evening twilight ends.

January 8-9
From Friday evening to Monday evening, the planet Mercury will appear to pass first by Saturn and then by Jupiter as it shifts away from the horizon, visible each evening low in the west-southwest and setting before evening twilight ends.

Saturday morning at 10:39 a.m. EST, the Moon will be at perigee, its closest to the Earth for this orbit.

January 10
On Sunday morning, the bright star Antares will appear about 7 degrees to the right of the thin, waning crescent Moon. The Moon will rise after Antares in the east-southeast (at 4:53 a.m. EST) and morning twilight will begin about 1.5 hours later.

Sunday evening will be the last evening the planet Jupiter will be above the horizon as evening twilight ends.

January 11
Monday morning, Jan. 11, 2021, if you have a very clear view of the horizon in the east-southeast, you might be able to see the bright planet Venus near the thin, waning crescent Moon. Venus will rise after the Moon (at 6:16 a.m. EST). Morning twilight begins 8 minutes later (at 6:24 a.m. EST), with the Moon appearing only about 2 degrees above the horizon and Venus about 5 degrees to the lower left. They will shift higher in the sky but also become more difficult to see as the sky brightens with the dawn.

January 12-13
At midnight Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, Jan. 12 to 13, 2021, will be the new Moon, when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and is not visible from the Earth.

Wednesday morning will be the last morning that the bright planet Venus will be above the horizon at the time morning twilight begins. Venus should still be visible in the glow of dawn after it rises in the east-southeast until about 30 minutes before sunrise.

The day of – or the day after – the new Moon marks the start of the new month for most lunisolar calendars. The twelfth month of the Chinese calendar starts on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 (at midnight in China’s time zone, which is 13 hours ahead of EST). Sundown on Wednesday also marks the start of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar. In the Islamic calendar, the months traditionally start with the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon. Many Muslim communities now follow the Umm al-Qura Calendar of Saudi Arabia, which uses astronomical calculations to start months in a more predictable way. Using this calendar the sixth month of the year, Jumada al-Thani, also known as Jumada al-Akhirah or Jumada al-Akhir, will begin at sunset on Wednesday.

Wednesday evening, until about half an hour after sunset, you might be able to see the thin waxing crescent Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury, low in the west-southwest. The Moon may be very difficult to see, as it will be setting 30 minutes after sunset (at 5:38 p.m. EST), but if you can see it before it sets in the west-southwest (perhaps with binoculars), you might be able to also spot Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury in an arc above the Moon. If you use binoculars, be sure to wait until you are sure the Sun has set to protect your eyes. Mercury will be the highest in the sky, and Wednesday evening will be the first evening that Mercury will be above the horizon at the time evening twilight ends.

January 14-19
By Thursday evening, Jan. 14, 2021, the thin, waxing crescent Moon will have shifted to form a rough line with Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn just above the horizon in the west-southwest. For the Washington D.C. area, at 5:40 p.m. EST (30 minutes after sunset), the Moon will be to the upper left about 10 degrees above the horizon, then Mercury to the lower right at 6 degrees above the horizon, Jupiter at 3 degrees, and Saturn at 1 degree above the horizon. Saturn will set first (at 5:48 p.m. EST), Jupiter next (at 6:02 p.m.), evening twilight will end (at 6:12 p.m.), Mercury will set (at 6:21 p.m.), and the Moon will set last (at 6:47 p.m.).

Sometime in mid-January (2021-Jan-16 10:49 UTC with 7 days, 5 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2013 AS76), between 182 to 407 feet (56 and 124 meters) across, will pass the Earth at between 4.7 and 183.5 lunar distances (nominally 74.0), traveling at 27,980 miles per hour (12.51 kilometers per second).

January 20-21
On Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 20, 2021, the Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its first quarter at 4:02 p.m. EST.

Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning, Jan. 20 to 21, 2021, the bright planet Mars will appear above the half-full Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 6:17 p.m. EST), Mars will appear about 8 degrees to the upper right of the Moon. The pair will appear to shift gradually closer together until the Moon sets in the west-northwest on Thursday morning at 12:54 a.m.

Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at 8:11 a.m. EST, the Moon will be at apogee, its farthest from the Earth for this orbit.

By Thursday evening, the Moon will appear to have shifted to about 9 degrees to the other side of the planet Mars, and the pair will continue to separate as the evening progresses.

January 23-24
Saturday evening, Jan. 23, 2021, will be when the planet Mercury reaches its greatest angular separation from the Sun as seen from the Earth for this apparition (called greatest eastern elongation), appearing half-lit through a large enough telescope. Because the angle of the line between the Sun and Mercury and the horizon changes over time, when Mercury and the Sun appear farthest apart as seen from the Earth is not the same as when Mercury appears highest above the horizon in the west-southwest as evening twilight ends. This occurs the next evening.

Saturday at 9:26 p.m. EST, the planet Saturn will be passing on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth, called a conjunction. Saturn will begin emerging from the glow of the dawn on the eastern horizon around Feb. 7, 2021 (depending upon viewing conditions).

Saturday evening into Sunday morning, Jan. 23 to 24, 2021, the bright star Aldebaran will appear below the waxing gibbous Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 6:21 p.m. EST) Aldebaran will appear about 5 degrees below the Moon. The Moon will reach its high point for the night at 8:23 p.m., and Aldebaran will set first in the west-northwest on Sunday morning at 3:28 a.m.

Sunday evening will be when the planet Mercury will appear at its highest above the horizon (5 degrees) at the time evening twilight ends (at 6:22 p.m. EST).

Sometime in the second half of January to early February 2021 (2021-Jan-25 10:28 UTC with 7 days, 22 hours, 6 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2018 BA3), between 48 to 107 feet (15 and 33 meters) across, will pass the Earth at between 0.7 and 9.2 lunar distances (nominally 1.5), traveling at 18,080 miles per hour (8.08 kilometers per second).

January 26-27
On Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning, Jan. 26 to 27, 2021, the bright star Pollux will appear near the waxing gibbous Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 6:24 p.m. EST), Pollux will appear about 9 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. The Moon will reach its high point for the night at 10:59 p.m. with Pollux about 8 degrees to the upper left. By the time morning twilight begins Wednesday morning at 6:18 a.m., Pollux will appear about 6 degrees above the Moon, which will only be about 23 minutes from setting in the west-northwest.

January 28
The next full Moon will be on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 28, 2021, appearing opposite the Sun at 2:16 p.m. EST.

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