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The Skies of January, 2023

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January Skies

by Dick Cookman

January 6, 2023

Editor's Note: Apologies for the late post, was out of town due to a family emergency when this month's article arrived...

Highlights: Comet Journal, Martian Landers, Meteor Showers, Planet Plotting, January Moon

Focus Constellations: Ursa Major, Ursa Minor, Draco, Cepheus, Cassiopeia, Camelopardalis, Perseus, Auriga, Taurus, Gemini, Cancer, Leo, Leo Minor, Lynx

Comet Journals

Comet C/2020 V2 (ZTF) and C/2022 A2 (PanSTARRS) are 9th magnitude comets located in Draco and Cassiopeia, respectively. The former will pass perihelion in May, 2023 and will be closest to Earth in September, 2023. The latter reaches perihelion of Feb. 18 and is closest to Earth on January 17.

Comet C/2022 E3 (ZTF) is a predawn long period comet which last visited 50,000 years ago. It is between Hercules and Bootes and moving northwestward in January. It will be between Ursa Major and Ursa Minor near Polaris by the 31st. It may reach naked eye visibility when near perihelion on the 12th and is closest to Earth in early February when it also can be viewed in the late evening sky.

Mars Landers

R.I.P. Insight Lander – NASA just retired the lander due to dust build up which shut down solar panel electrical production. The Elysium Planitia landing site for Insight was chosen due to evidence of recent limited volcanic activity and the thought that it was a safe, geologically boring area in which to conduct planet wide analysis. After its November, 2018 landing, Insight set up seismometers and temperature and wind measuring instruments. The lander also utilized its spacecraft communication system to make precise measurement of Martian rotation and wobbling as it orbited the Sun in order to determine the nature of the Martian liquid core. It also devoted considerable, but unsuccessful, efforts for placing a heat-flow measuring package at a depth of 16 feet to determine heat flow and thermal properties of the Martian interior. The termination of the project marked a disappointing reduction of Insight’s mission.

Insight recorded more than 1300 seismic events. In 2021, Two large events were determined to result from distant impacts which formed craters over 130 meters in diameter. Most events appear to be centered in Cerberus Fossae, 1000 miles away from the lander. Although significant tectonic activity on Mars is thought to have ceased over a billion years ago, current analysis of the activity at Cerberus Fossae indicates the presence of a huge 2500 mile wide plume of upwelling magma underlying the Elysium Planitia/Cerberus Fossae region. The plume apparently uplifted the surface by more than a mile, creating an 800 mile long fracture zone as it stretched the crust. Disappointment in the failure of the heat flow experiments pales into insignificance when compared to the serendipitous landing right on top of an unexpected huge mantle plume marking the most geologically active area of Mars which also may be where we find evidence of recent running water and even the possibility of Martian life!

Meteor Showers

The most favorable January meteor shower for the northern hemisphere is the Quadrantid shower. It is normally one of the better showers of the year, and is best viewed before dawn when the meteors appear to radiate from low in the eastern sky. The waxing gibbous Moon will be in the western sky at that time.

  • January 4: Quadrantids, Active January 1 – 5. Radiant +49°. ZHR 60 to 200. 41 km/sec. Waxing Crescent Moon. Progenitor: 96P/Machholtz, Near-Earth asteroid (196256) 2003 EH1.

Planet Plottings

As in December, all the planets are in the evening sky in early January. Mercury (+1.4) and Venus (-3.8), are in Sagittarius. Mercury sets less than an hour after the Sun and rapidly descends into the glow of sunset, leaving the evening sky before reaching inferior conjunction on the 7th. In the middle of January, it becomes the only morning planet when it moves into the predawn sky. It rises 45 minutes before the Sun by the 19th and reaches maximum western elongation on the 30th.

Saturn (+0.8) in Capricornus is within a degree of Venus on the 22nd. Neptune (+7.9) in Aquarius and Jupiter (-2.2 to -2.0) in Pisces are in the southwestern evening sky. Uranus (+5.7) and Mars (-1.8 to -0.3) rise in the afternoon in Aries and Taurus and set well after midnight. Mars is well passed its December 1 opposition and has diminished significantly in brightness.

PlanetConstellation(s)MagnitudePlanet PassagesTimeDate
SunSagittarius, Capricornus-26.5New Moon3:53PM EST1/21
MercurySagittarius+1.4 to 0.0Inferior Conjunction
Max west Elongation
8:00AM EST
1:00AM EST
VenusSagittarius, Capricornus, Aquarius-3.8Saturn 0.4°N3:00PM EST1/22
MarsTaurus-1.2 to -0.3   
JupiterPisces-2.2 to -2.0   
SaturnCapricornus0.8Venus 0.4°S3:00PM EST1/22

January Moon

January’s New Moon is in Capricornus on the 21st at 3:53PM EST. The New Moon is the start of Lunation 1238 which ends 29.44 days later with the New Moon of February in Aquarius on the 20th at 2:06AM EST. The Full Moon is in Gemini on the 6th at 6:08PM EST. The January Moon is called “Old Moon” or “Moon after Yule”. It was called the “Wolf Moon” in Medieval England and for Celts it was the “Quiet Moon”. In China, it is the “Holiday Moon” and Colonial Americans called it “Winter Moon”. Anishnaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) first people recognize the January Moon as “Gichimanidoo-giizis” (Great Spirit Moon) in the western dialect and “Manidoo-giizis” (Spirit Moon) in the eastern dialect. Earth Haven Farm in Ontario documents the cultural teaching which explains the cycle of life and nature of the 1st Grandmother Moon of Creation as follows: “The first moon of Creation is the Spirit Moon, and is manifested through the Northern Lights. It is a time to honour the silence and realize our place within all of Great Mystery’s creatures.”

Lunar Apogee (maximum lunar distance) is on the January 8 at 4:00AM EST, when the Moon will be at a distance of 252,562 mi. (63.73 Earth radii). Lunar Perigee distance (minimum lunar distance) is 221,562 mi. (55.91 Earth radiil) on the 21st at 3:55PM EST. It almost coincides with New Moon, producing the largest New Moon of 2023 (if only your could see it – a “SUPER NEW MOON”). The waxing gibbous Moon appears to pass Uranus on the 1st and Mars on the 3rd. The waning crescent passes Mercury on the 20th. The waxing crescent Moon passes Saturn and Venus on the 23rd, and Neptune and Jupiter on the 25th. On the 28th, the waxing gibbous Moon passes Uranus and then passes Mars on the 31st.

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassagesMoon PhaseMoon Age
SunCapricornus-26.83:53PM EST, 1/21New0 Days
MercurySagittarius0.36.9°S, 4:00AM EST, 1/20Waning Crescent27.98 Days
VenusCapricornus-3.83.2°SE, 6:00AM EST, 1/23Waxing Crescent1.59 Days
MarsTaurus-1.10.61°SE,M4:00PM EST, 1/3Waxing Gibbous11.45 Days
MarsPisces-0.30.28°S, Midnight EST, 1/31Waxing Gibbous9.34 Days
JupiterPisces-2.11.63°S, 11:00PM EST, 1/25Waxing Crescent4.30 Days
SaturnCapricornus0.83.6°SE, 5:00AM EST, 1/23Waxing Crescent1.55 Days
UranusAries5.70.76°N, 6:00PM EST, 1/1Waxing Gibbous9.53 Days
UranusAries5.70.92° S, 11:00PM EST, 1/28Waxing Gibbous7.30 Days
NeptuneAquarius7.92.42° S, 4:00AM EST, 1/25Waxing Crescent3.50 Days


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