All information presented here is taken from my book Nightscenes 2021
There will be no printed edition for 2021 but a pdf/kindle version for January to June 2021 is now available from the nightscenes web page.
Click on the monthly image to get a larger high resolution view of the night sky set for 53° N (Horncastle, England) but is usable for the UK and Eire. All charts are set for the 1st of the month at 22:00 GMT (10pm) and can be used on the other dates and times shown in each corner of the chart.
Solar System quick summary
Some charts & images in the text can also be clicked to give a larger view.
Jupiter and Saturn lie close together in the evening twilight being briefly joined by Mercury, but they quickly disappear becoming too close to the Sun to view. Mercury can be seen low in the evening twilight most of the month. Neptune, and Uranus are well placed to view in the evenings as is the much brighter Mars. Mars is in conjunction with Uranus on the 21st. Minor planet Vesta is viewable all month in the late evenings and night. Venus lies in the morning twilight for the first week but is quickly lost in the solar glare. The Quadrantids Meteor Shower peaks on the afternoon of the 3rd and is favourable to view that night until the moon rises.
We begin with the evening sky and our last chance to see Jupiter and Saturn before they become lost in the evening twilight later in the month. On the 1st of the year they are still close together after last months close conjunction but now Jupiter begins to creep away to the upper left of Saturn. Look from about ½ hr to ¾ hr after sunset to spot them low in the SW.
On Jan 10th (left) Mercury is creeping up into the evening sky and joins them as seen here. Jupiter is the brightest at mag -
Four days later on the 14th the very slim crescent moon joins them where by now the three planets are almost in a line as shown in the chart at right for an interesting view. Saturn will be getting harder to view. Make sure the sun has set when looking out for them!
Mercury lingers in the bright evening twilight for the rest of the month and is at greatest eastern elongation from the Sun on Jan 24th but from then on it drops rapidly into the ever brightening twilight fading as it does so.
As darkness falls, Neptune can be found in the early evening sky using binoculars or small telescopes and lies below 96 Aquarii. It will remain viewable for another few weeks before becoming lost in the evening twilight around mid February. The chart here shows it greatly exaggerated with the time set for 6pm mid January. In small telescopes it looks a little bluish in colour and since Pluto was demoted, Neptune is officially the last planet in our Solar System.
96 Aqr is mag 5.6 whilst Neptune is mag 7.9, Phi (f) Aqr is mag 4.2 and towards the bottom of the chart lies the three stars of Psi (y) Aqr with Psi1 Aqr the brightest at mag 4.2. Hip 115257 is mag 6.2 and on the nights of 19th & 20th Neptune lies between it and 96 Aqr -
In the meantime, Mars is still bright and easily seen with the naked eye in the evenings skies as closes in on and passes much fainter Uranus on the 21st. The motion of Mars against the backdrop stars is fast because the planet is relatively close to us, whilst Uranus is much much further away and only moves a tiny amount during the duration of our chart which is set for all of January at 7pm.
Mars moves away from Uranus as it heads up through Aries towards Taurus. Mars is about mag +0.1 whilst Uranus is mag +5.8 so under very dark moonless skies with no light pollution keen eyed observers may be able to glimpse Uranus with the unaided eye. Otherwise binoculars will help!
The Moon gets in on the act too as can be seen above when it lies to the lower right of Mars on the 20th when it is at First quarter phase then to the lower left of Mars and Uranus on the 21st adding to the fun. Two evenings later the moon lies between the star cluster M45, the Pleiades and the Hyades star cluster and the bright orange looking star, Aldebaran. Binoculars will bring out the colour of it and the clusters stars against the bright moonlight.
Meanwhile the Moon lies near to the Sickle of Leo and the bright star Regulus twice during January. On Jan 2nd it lies close to Eta (h) Leonis and on a line with Regulus and Eta not long after rising, with our chart (right) set for 9pm. It also shows the day past full moon on the 29th off to the right of Eta. This can only happen when the moon lies near to a star or planet at the start of the month as the orbital period of the moon is 27.3 days with respect to the stars, i.e. less than a normal month’s number of days.
In the morning sky the moon lies off to the left of Porrima on Jan 6th when it will be at Last Quarter phase and so the moon will be half illuminated. Look from around 4am to 7am before twilight begins to see the view shown in the chart above. Next morning the moon will lie to the upper left of Spica, the brightest star of Virgo. Then on the 8th the thick crescent moon will lie above right of Alpha Librae, also known as Zuben El Genubi. This star is interesting as a wide double star so do check it out with 10x50 binoculars or small telescopes.
The Minor planet, 4 Vesta can be spotted with binoculars over the next few months as it heads towards its March opposition date. The chart here shows it from Jan 1st to March 14th and it brightens from mag 7.3 to 5.8 at opposition, technically a naked eye object under dark, moonless skies. Vesta is stationary on Jan 23rd and then begins to retrograde.
Back to the early part of the month and into the morning sky. Venus is the last planet for us to mention but despite being bright it is very low in the bright morning twilight.
On the 11th at approximately 7:30am look for it and the slim crescent moon (above) low down in the SE only a few degrees above the horizon so you really do need an uncluttered horizon to have any chance of spotting them. Just be careful and not catch a view of the rising sun a short while later!
We have one decent meteor shower in January, the Quadrantids which technically peak on the afternoon of the 3rd. As this shower radiant is circumpolar it doesn’t set, so once the sky is dark then you can look out for them until the moon rises around 9pm. After that, moonlight will begin to limit how many meteors you can see. This shower has a possible ZHR of 110 but is more likely to be 20 to 25. The radiant is shown on the monthly sky chart.
Also look out for the following:
1st Ceres lies very close to Globular Cluster NGC 7492 (telescope/ evening)
3rd Moon lies to upper right of Denebola and Vesta (late evening)
10th Crescent moon lies to the left of Antares (morning twilight)
17th Crescent moon forms triangle with Neptune and Psi Aquarii (evening)
27th Moon forms a line with Castor and Pollux (evening)
28th Full Moon lies in Cancer near to Beehive cluster (evening)
Clear skies, happy sky watching and stay safe!
Webmaster © Paul L Money 2021
The UK & Ireland Night Sky for 2021
Earth is at Perihelion (closest to the Sun) on January 2nd when it will be 91.4 million miles or 147.1 million kilometres from the Sun.
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