What to see in the night sky in January 2020

Our monthly guide for stargazers

Venus is now shining like a brilliant beacon in the evening sky, wherever you are in the world. Mars and Jupiter are in the morning sky. Look for the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower on the night of January 3rd/4th. A penumbral lunar eclipse occurs on the 10th. Here’s more of what you can see in the night sky in January 2020.


January’s star chart

Click on the image above for an interactive map of constellations visible in the sky. It can be adjusted for any time and date.
(For a map of the night sky in the southern hemisphere, click here.)


The planets in January 2020

Mercury

Mercury lies on the far part of its orbit for the early part of the month, reaching superior conjunction, on the opposite side of the Sun, on January 10. After that, it moves into the evening sky, and you may be able to find it, with a clear horizon, in the last week of January, though things improve in early February. Read more about Mercury.


Venus

Venus now dominates the evening sky, and you will have no trouble spotting it as the twilight sky begins to darken, shining at a brilliant magnitude -3.7. This makes it the brightest natural object in the night sky after the Moon.

The crescent Moon passes Venus on the 28th and 29th, making for an attractive photo opportunity for those with an unobstructed southwestern horizon. Through a telescope, Venus can be seen to resemble a gibbous Moon because it is still on the far side of its orbit around the Sun. Here’s more about the current apparition of Venus. Read more about Venus.


Mars

Mars is a morning planet, and moves from Libra, through Scorpius, and into Ophiuchus during January. You can see it among the stars in the claws of Scorpius, the Scorpion, during the second week of January. The brightest star in Scorpius, Antares, has a name which means “rival of Mars”, because both appear reddish. However, is noticeably dimmer at the moment, shining at magnitude 1.7, because it is still on the far side of its orbit with respect to Earth. Don’t expect to see any detail on its tiny disk through a telescope for a few months more. The crescent Moon will be close by on January 20 and 21. Read our guide to Mars.


Jupiter

Jupiter was at conjunction , on the far side of the Sun, on December 27th, and so is lost to view during January as it moves into the morning sky. Read more about planet Jupiter.

Saturn

Saturn will be at conjunction with the Sun on January 13th and so invisible to observers. Read more about Saturn.


Uranus

The ice giant Uranus is very well placed in the sky, and you can observe it from the moment the sky gets dark until it sets in early morning hours. It lies in the constellation of Aries, and so is the most northerly, and therefore best-placed planet for northern hemisphere observers. Uranus, which appears as a tiny disk through an amateur telescope, shines at magnitude 5.7, which is on the very limit of naked-eye viewing, though you would need exceptionally clear, dark skies to glimpse it. Binoculars will bring it easily into view. A telescope may show you a tiny greenish disk. Here’s where you can find Uranus in the night sky. Read more about Uranus.


Neptune

Outer ice giant Neptune is now strictly an early evening sight. It lies in the constellation of Aquarius and sets by mid-evening. You will need binoculars or a small telescope to see Neptune because it manages a magnitude of only 7.8. Venus will lie close to Neptune on January 27. Here’s where you can find Neptune in the night sky. Read more about Neptune.


A Quadrantid meteor flashes through Bootes in 2016. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

Meteors in January – the Quadrantids

The New Year quickly brings us one of the year’s strongest meteor showers, the Quadrantids, though the sharp peak lasts only a few hours. It occurs on the night of January 3rd/4th, and the ZHR – jargon for best possible rate if the radiant were overhead and conditions ideal – is expected to be 120 or more an hour. The Quadrantid radiant lies in a far northern declination, in the constellation of Bootes. It is a shower for northern observers, as the radiant does not rise for those at southerly latitudes. This year is good for the Quadrantid meteor shower because the Moon will set not too long after midnight, leaving several hours of darkness in which to watch for the shooting stars. Read our full guide to observing the Quadrantids in 2020.

Related: A simple guide to observing meteors

This photo of the Moon within the Earth’s outer shadow, or penumbra, was taken during the prelude to a total lunar eclipse. Image credit: Paul Sutherland

Penumbral lunar eclipse

A penumbral eclipse of the Moon will occur on January 10. This is an eclipse where the Moon only passes through the Earth’s outer shadow in space – the penumbra – and not the darker central shadow, the umbra.

The eclipse will begin a few seconds before 17.08 UT when the Moon begins to enter the penumbra, and it will end just after 21.12 UT when the last part of the Moon leaves the shadow.

The eclipse may be seen from anywhere in the world where the Moon is above the horizon in that time window. The entire eclipse is therefore visible from most of Europe, most of Africa, plus India and most of Asia, and western Australia. Outside these areas lies a zone where the Moon either rises or sets during the eclipse. None of the eclipse is visible from the USA, other than from Alaska and Hawaii.

A penumbral lunar eclipse is not strikingly obvious like a total eclipse of the Moon. The whole Moon remains illuminated, but will shine with a lot less glare than a normal Full Moon. If you were able to stand on the Moon in the penumbral shadow, you would see the Sun partially covered by the Earth.


The Moon

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.

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!


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