Stargazing: This month’s night sky

January 2021

January’s long nights give us plenty of time for stargazing, so long as the skies stay clear. There are spectacular sights to try to locate this month, such as the Orion constellation and even the Milky Way, if you’re far enough away from city lights.

Stars

The constellation of Auriga, the Charioteer is right above our heads this month, within the band of the Milky Way and between Gemini (the Twins) and Perseus (the Hero). If you are somewhere dark enough to have a chance to spot the faint, fuzzy band of the Milky Way, finding Auriga can help you know where to look. The brightest star in this constellation is Capella, a yellowish star, whose name means “Little Goat”. In actuality Capella is not a single star, but a system of four separate stars; the three additional stars are known as ‘the kids’.


Above: Almost directly above, facing West-South West at midnight, 15th January 2021


Above: An illustration of how the Charioteer is imagined in the constellation of Auriga and Capella, the Little Goat, with ‘the kids’.

During January, you will immediately be able to see Sirius. Sirius is the brightest star in the night sky and lies in the constellation Canis Major, the Great Dog. It can be spotted above the Southern horizon, but to make finding it even easier, you can use the constellation of Orion the hunter to guide you.


Above: Facing South-South West at midnight, 15th January 2021


Above: Following the line of Orion’s Belt to locate Sirius.

Orion is easily spotted this time of year due to his belt. Three stars make up this asterism (star pattern). From left to right they are Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka – these are Arabic names; ‘Alnilam’ aptly meaning ‘string of pearls’. Joining these up in a straight line and following downwards, they point to the bright star Sirius.

Planets

Jupiter and Saturn are getting increasingly difficult to see, but looking south west shortly after sunset might still give you a chance to see both planets, very close to each other. This will be easier at the start of the month but by the end of January these two planets will appear too near to the Sun to be able to see them.

Venus will also only be visible in the morning sky at the beginning of the month, looking south east shortly before sunrise but again, by the end of January, it will be rising along with the Sun.

Mercury, on the other hand, will be getting easier to see. As it is physically closer to the Sun than the Earth is, it can never appear “behind” us. This means that Mercury will never be visible in the middle of the night. It is always close to the Sun, making it challenging to spot. By mid-January, however, we should have a chance to find it in the evening sky by using the crescent Moon as a guide. On 14th of January, the Moon will set a little after the Sun, and will be a very slim crescent. Looking to the right of this should enable you to spot Mercury in the twilight. Be careful not to look for it until after the Sun has completely set, as you can risk damage to your eyes by accidentally looking at the Sun.


Above: Facing South West after sunset. 14th January 2021

The Moon

Third Quarter 6th January
New Moon 13th January
First Quarter 20th January
Full Moon 28th January

Spacecraft

Click here to find out times to view the ISS from your location.

On the 4th of January, Boeing Orbital Test Flight 2 is scheduled to launch from Cape Canaveral. This uncrewed test flight will see the Starliner spacecraft dock with the International Space Station, before undocking and landing back in the United States.

Happy Stargazing! #WatchTheSkies