Highlights: Venus brilliant in January’s evening sky. Mars close to Neptune.
Welcome to Skymania’s guide to the night sky in January, 2017. You will find a map of the whole visible sky, which can be adjusted for any time and date, plus information on the position of the planets, phases of the Moon, and notable astronomical events to watch out for. (To open the sky map in a separate window, click here.)
For the night sky in the northern hemisphere, click here.
The sky in January 2017
Summary: Venus shines brilliantly in the evening sky, with Mars nearby. Jupiter dominates the morning sky, with Saturn and Mercury rising just before dawn. Neptune lies close to Mars at the very start of the month, and may be seen with a telescope or binoculars. (If you don’t own an optical aid, we’ve advice on choosing binoculars or a telescope here).
Venus continues to dominate the evening sky, shining like a brilliant jewel after sunset. In recent weeks, it has lifted itself well above the horizon for northern observers, and so is hard to miss, shining at magnitude -4.5, making it the brightest object in the night sky after the Moon. Many non-astronomers will be heard asking what the bright “star” is. Venus reaches its greatest elongation east on January 12, after which it will begin to draw back towards the Sun, on its way to inferior conjunction in March when it will lie approximately between Earth and the Sun. Through a small telescope, the planet will resemble a moon at half phase.
Mars continues to hang around in the evening sky as its rapid eastward motion through the zodiac delays the Sun’s attempts to catch it up. From northern latitudes, would will find it to the upper right of Venus, shining more dimly at magnitude 1. On New Year’s Day, Mars will have another close neighbour, as the outermost planet Neptune will lie less than a Moon’s-width away from it. Both will therefore be visible together in the field of a small telescope, though Neptune is very much fainter at magnitude 8, well below the limit of naked-eye visibility.
Jupiter, the biggest planet in the Solar System, is very well placed for observers willing to check out the sky in the later hours of the night. It rises around an hour after midnight at the start of January and more than two hours earlier by the end of the month. The planet lies in Virgo and shining brightly at almost magnitude -2. A small telescope will reveal the planet’s belts and bands as well as the four main moons, known as the Galilean satellites, Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Uranus is visible in the evening sky, but sets soon after midnight in mid-month. The planet is just visible to the unaided eye if you have an exceptionally clear, dark sky, but binoculars make it much easier to spot. You can find it in shining at magnitude 6.0 in the constellation of Pisces.
Vesta is at its besta!
The brightest of the asteroids, Vesta, is at opposition on January 18 and will be easy to find with binoculars over the next few weeks. The bright stars Castor and Pollux point straight at it in January. Here is our guide on how to find, and photograph), Vesta.
The Moon always makes a great target for a small telescope, which come into view as its phases change. We’ve a guide to where to find 50 of the best lunar features, plus a checklist to download so you can tick them off as you spot them! Don’t have a telescope? Here’s our guide to choosing one.
Phases of the Moon
Full Moon: Jan 12
Last Quarter: Jan 19
New Moon: Jan 28
Image courtesy U.S.N.O.
Fifty fantastic features – our amazing Moon
Here’s our guide to observing some of the finest sights on the Moon with small telescopes. Click here for pages of charts that will help you find interesting features to seek out yourself, including craters, lava flows, mountain ranges and deep chasms!
If you want to check out the sky as seen from the northern hemisphere, click here.