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Last modified: Tuesday, January 8, 2008


January twilight features an encounter between Venus and Jupiter

Jan. 8, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- The highlight of January will be the encounter of the bright planets Venus and Jupiter during morning twilight. Like an infatuated couple slowly moving toward each other across a crowded dance floor, the two brightest planets in the sky will gradually draw closer.


On Jan. 1, Venus was well up in the southeast three hours before sunrise while Jupiter was just beginning to appear from the solar glare near the eastern horizon. Each morning after that, Venus will be a little lower and Jupiter a little higher. Finally, they will pass close by each other on Jan. 31 and Feb. 1. Then Venus will continue downward toward the glow of dawn while Jupiter climbs higher. The bright orange star Antares in the constellation Scorpius will watch the two planets meet from its position nearby to the right (south).

Mars will continue to be a fine sight during January, appearing well above the eastern horizon as the evening sky darkens and reaching its highest point before midnight. The glowing orange planet will be visible all night, soaring high overhead as it crosses the sky.

Saturn will rise in the east around 9 p.m. local time at the start of the month and two hours earlier by month's end. The planet with the famous rings will be high in the south around midnight, the best time for viewing it with a telescope. Its rings will be a little more visible in January after closing to a temporary minimum last month. Saturn will remain at almost the same brilliance all month as it dominates the stars of the constellation Leo the Lion.

Mercury will emerge from the sun's glare into the evening sky during the second week of January. Look for the white pinpoint of light low in the west-southwest, if you have a clear view of the horizon in that direction. The little planet will be visible beginning about half an hour after sunset. By Jan. 15, it will set more than an hour after the sun. In the final week of the month, it will rapidly fade as it drops back into the sunset.

Meteor shower

The Quadrantid meteor shower was active for the first week of January. It peaked on the night of Jan. 3-4 during the hours before dawn. The rate of this shower varies considerably and unpredictably from year to year, but it can be as high as 120 meteors per hour. The meteors will appear to come from a point low in the northwest near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, which will rise in the northeast. The radiant is in the constellation Bootes the Herdsman, which contains the bright orange star Arcturus as a conspicuous marker. In the 18th century, this area of the sky was called Quadrans Muralis and gave the Quadrantid meteor shower its name.

Try facing northeast toward the Big Dipper. If you extend the curve formed by the handle's three stars, it forms an "arc to Arcturus." Meteors should be visible in all parts of the sky, but the higher Arcturus is above the eastern horizon, the more meteors there will be. More information about viewing meteor showers, including the Quadrantids, is available from the American Meteor Society at

Moon phases

The moon will be new on Jan. 8, at first quarter on Jan. 15, full on Jan. 22 and at third quarter on Jan. 30.