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Hal Kibbey

Last modified: Thursday, January 3, 2013

Star Trak: January 2013

Jan. 3, 2013

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- Jupiter will dominate the night sky during January, appearing high in the east within a half hour after sunset. A number of bright stars will be in Jupiter's part of the sky this month, and the giant planet will be much brighter than any of them.

It will be between the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters in the constellation Taurus the Bull, which features the bright orange star Aldebaran. January will be a fine month for viewing Jupiter with a telescope at mid-northern latitudes, since the planet will be unusually high above the horizon from dusk until after midnight. An especially pretty sight will be on Jan. 21, when the moon will pass very close to Jupiter.


Photo courtesy of NASA

Mars will be low in the southwest as darkness falls on January evenings, appearing faint orange in the twilight glow. At mid-northern latitudes it will set about two hours after the sun.

Saturn will rise around 3 a.m. local time at the beginning of January but about two hours earlier by month's end. The best time to view it with a telescope will be in morning twilight, when it will be highest in the south. Its rings will be tilted 19 degrees to our line of sight, offering a fine view.

Venus will be just above the southeastern horizon a half hour before sunrise, sinking even lower as the month advances.

Mercury will be out of sight in the solar glare as it passes behind the sun during January.

Meteor shower

The Quadrantid meteor shower will be active for the first week of January, having peaked during the hours before dawn Jan. 3. The third-quarter moon will interfere with the display this year, but observers may see up to 100 meteors per hour during the brief peak.

The Quadrantids will appear to come from a point called the radiant 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.

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.


Earth was closest to the sun in its orbit, the position called perihelion, at midnight EST Jan. 2 (5 a.m. Universal Time). A common misconception is that our seasons are caused by Earth's changing distance from the sun. The actual cause is the tilt of Earth's axis.

In the Northern Hemisphere, winter happens when the North Pole is tilted away from the sun, so sunlight must pass through a greater amount of Earth's atmosphere to reach the surface. We actually experience the coldest time of year when we are closest to the sun.

Moon phases

The moon will be at third quarter on Jan. 4, new on Jan. 11, at first quarter on Jan. 18 and full on Jan. 26.