The Night Sky This Month

January 2015

jupiter-shadowsHappy New Year and welcome to 2015! The year begins with the respectably bright Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy), which gallops from south of Orion northward towards Perseus during January. The comet has already brightened to become visible to the unaided eye in dark sky. You will find a map below to help you find the comet throughout the month. Mighty Jupiter is the other big draw this month. It rises in the eastern sky just after sunset and reaches overhead just after midnight. The planet is a delight in a small telescope, and keen-eyed observers with telescopes can see a rare transit of the shadows of three of the four largest Jovian moons. Here’s what to see in the night sky this month…

(Reminder: It’s not too late to order the 2015 Year in Space Wall Calendar for you and the space fans in your life. This large and beautifully illustrated calendar, which has more than 120 new images, was named “Science Geek Gift of the Year” by MSNBC’s Cosmic Log website. Click here to learn more …)

5 Jan. Full Moon, 04:53 UTC

7 Jan.  Jupiter comes within 5º of the waning gibbous Moon. The planet is the brightest object in the night sky except for the Moon this month and shines near the star Regulus in the constellation Leo. Jupiter is a dazzling sight all month, with a disk some 45″ wide. It reaches opposition early in February. The planet is a glorious sight in a small telescope, and even binoculars show the continuous movement of its four largest moons.

Mercury and Venus low in the western sky after sunset on January 10, 2015

Mercury and Venus low in the western sky after sunset on January 10, 2015

9-11 Jan. Mercury and Venus lie within a degree of each other low in the southwestern sky after sunset. Use binoculars to get the best view. Venus at magnitude -3.9 is far brighter than Mercury, which shines at magnitude -0.8 at the beginning of the month. Mercury fades back toward the Sun by month’s end.

13 Jan. Last Quarter Moon, 09:46 UTC

14 Jan. Mercury lies at greatest eastern elongation about 19º east of the Sun.

16 Jan. Saturn lies within 2º of the waning crescent Moon in the southeastern sky before sunrise. The planet gets a little larger and brighter each month in the constellation Libra, just off the front claws of the mighty constellation Scorpius. It’s visible in the pre-dawn sky all month, rising at 4 a.m. as 2015 begins.

Saturn and a waning crescent Moon as seen looking southeast before dawn on January 16, 2015

Saturn and a waning crescent Moon as seen looking southeast before dawn on January 16, 2015

19 Jan. In a telescope after sunset, and when the sky darkens somewhat, look for the tiny disk of Neptune just 0.25º north of Mars in the western sky. The two planets easily fit in the same field of view in a telescope. Mars is distant and tiny now, with a disk just 5″ wide and with few features visible.

19 Jan. Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) lies about 7º west of the Pleiades. The comet moves from Lepus, south of Orion, northward through Eridanus, Taurus, Aries, and Triangulum through the month. See map below from Sky and Telescope magazine.

Path of Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) in January 2015 (credit: SkyandTelescope.com)

Path of Comet C/2014 Q2 (Lovejoy) in January 2015 (credit: SkyandTelescope.com)

20 Jan. New Moon, 13:14 UTC

22 Jan. Look for Mars near the waxing crescent Moon in the western sky after sunset.

24 Jan. Look for a triple shadow transit on the face of Jupiter as the shadows of Io, Europa, and Callisto are visible at the same time in a telescope between 6:27 UT to 6:52 UT.

27 Jan. First Quarter Moon, 04:48 UTC