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The Skies of January, 2024

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January Skies

by Dick Cookman

January 6, 2024

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

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

Comet Journals

Comet C/2021 S3 (Panstarrs) is a long period 9th magnitude comet in Lupus. It will move into Scorpius by the 31st and will reach perihelion on February 14, 2024 at about 7th magnitude and will be brightest on March 1 in Serpens Cauda. It passes perigee (closest to Earth) on March 14 then heads back into outer space as in leaves the Solar System.

Comet 62P/Tsuchinsham 1 2023, a short period (6.67 years) comet at 7th magnitude in Virgo, passed through perihelion on Christmas and was closest to Earth on Dec 30. It will exit Virgo by late summer.

Comet 12P/Pons-Brooks (2024) is at 7th magnitude in Cygnus. Perihelion passage is April 21, with closest approach to Earth at 1.55 AU (232 million km) on June 2.

Mars Landers

A major Martian climate transition is proposed in the November 23, 2023 issue of Nature Astronomy “Zhang, L., Li, C., Zhang, J. et al. Buried palaeo-polygonal terrain detected underneath Utopia Planitia on Mars by the Zhurong radar. Nat Astron (2023). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41550-023-02117-3.”

At the top of ancient layers formed during a long warm and wet era on Mars, China’s Zhurong rover found polygonal cracks at a depth of 35 meters below Utopia Planitia on Mars with ground penetrating radar. The article indicates that the cracks appear to be remnants of large scale versions of the patterned ground formed from freeze/thaw conditions found in permafrost in periglacial regions on Earth. Such extremely large cracks may have resulted from conditions more extreme than on Earth and since they were found at the low latitude of 25°N, the axial tilt of Mars may have approached 40 degrees during their formation about 3 billion years ago! The overlying 35 meter layers deposited since the polygons were formed appear to represent a significant change in climate associated with more moderate conditions characterized by short glacial events with dry and arid intervals separated by brief warmer and wetter episodes.

Meteor Showers

Quadrantid shower peaks in northeastern skies on the 4th, producing up to 25 meteors per hour in dark skies before dawn. Glare from the waning crescent Moon in the west should not interfere with views of the meteors and fireballs.

  • January 4, 2-4AM: Quadrantids. Active Jan. 1 – 5, Radiant 15h20m +49°. ZHR 60 to 120. 41 km/sec. Favorable, Waning Crescent Moon. Progenitor: asteroid known as 2003 EH1 .

Planet Plottings

In the predawn hours in January, observers peer eastward toward the inner planets, Mercury (0.8 to -2.1) in Ophiuchus, Venus (-3.9) in Scorpius, and Mars (1.4 to 1.3) in Sagittarius. In the evening, we turn our heads westward toward the outer giant planets, Jupiter (-2.4 to -2.2) in Aries, Saturn (0.9 to 1.0) in Aquarius, Uranus (5.7) in Aries, and Neptune (7.9) in Pisces.

On the 1st, Venus rises after 5:00AM, followed by Mercury and Mars before sunrise. Venus moves from Scorpius into Ophiuchus on the 6th, then is passed by the waning crescent Moon on the 8th. It joins Mercury and Mars in Sagittarius on the 20th. Mercury will be buried in the glow of sunrise for the first week of January after which the waning crescent Moon passes by on the 9th. Mercury then moves closer to Venus as it approaches greatest western elongation (24°) from the Sun on the 12th. The waning Crescent Moon passes Mars in the glow of sunrise on the 10th, then Mars rises above the Suns’s glow on the 19th when it appears on the horizon a hand’s width east of Mercury before sunrise. Mercury and Mars appear to get closer until the 27th when they are only 0.2° apart.

Saturn and Neptune are early evening planets in the western sky. Saturn sets first and Neptune follows about an hour later. The waxing crescent Moon passes Saturn on the 14th and Neptune on the 15th. Uranus and Jupiter are high in the South after sunset and set before midnight. The waxing gibbous Moon passes Jupiter on the 18th and Uranus on the 19th.

PlanetConstellation(s)MagnitudePlanet PassagesTimeDate
SunLibra, Scorpius-26.5New Moon6:57AM EST1/11
MercuryOphiuchus0.5Max West Elongation10:00AM EST1/12
MercurySagittarius-0.2Mars, 0.2°S11:00AM EST1/27
VenusScorpius – Sagittarius-3.9   
MarsSagittarius1.4 to 1.3Mercury, 0.2°N11:00AM EST1/27
JupiterAries-2.4 to -2.2   
SaturnAquarius0.9 to 1.0   

January Moon

January’s New Moon is in Sagittarius on the 11th at 6:57AM EST. It marks the start of Lunation 1250 which ends 29.52 days later with the New Moon of February in Sagittarius on the 9th at 6:00PM EST.

The Full Moon on the 25th occurs at 12:54PM EST in Cancer. It is called the Moon after Yule or Old Moon. It was called the Wolf Moon in Medieval England. For Celts, it was the Quiet Moon and, in China, it is the Holiday Moon. Colonial Americans called it the Winter Moon.

Anishnaabe (Odawa and Ojibwe) first people respectively recognize the 1st Moon of the year as “Manidoo-Giizisoons” (Spirit Moon) in the eastern dialect and “Gichimanidoo-giizis” (Great Spirit Moon) in the western dialect. Ontario’s Earth Haven Farm presents cultural teachings explaining the cycle of life and nature of Spirit Moon, the first moon of Creation which 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 January 1 at 10:28AM EST when the Moon’s distance is 251,599 mi. (63.41 Earth radii). A second Lunar Apogee is on January 29 at 3:14AM EST when the Moon’s distance is 252,138 mi. (63.42 Earth radii). Lunar perigee (minimum lunar distance) is on the 13th when the Moon is at 225,102 mi. (57.52 Earth radii) at 5:36AM EST.

The waning crescent Moon appears to pass Venus on the 8th, Mercury on the 9th and Mars on the 10th. The waxing crescent passes Saturn on the 14th, and Neptune on the 15th. The waxing gibbous Moon passes Jupiter on the 18th, and Uranus on the 19th.

PlanetConstellationMagnitudeMoon PassagesMoon PhaseMoon Age
SunSagittarius-26.86:57AM EST, 1/11New0 Days
MercuryOphiuchus-0.17.0°S, 2:00PM EST, 1/9Waning Crescent27.52 Days
VenusOphiuchus-3.96.0°S, 3:00PM EST, 1/8Waning Crescent26.85 Days
MarsSagittarius1.44.0°S, 4:00AM EST, 1/10Waning Crescent28.40 Days
JupiterAries-2.33.0°N, 4:00PM EST, 1/18Waxing Gibbous7.38 Days
SaturnAquarius1.02.0°S, 5:00AM EST, 1/14Waxing Crescent2.92 Days
UranusAries5.73.0°N, 3:00PM EST, 1/19Waxing Gibbous8.33 Days
NeptunePisces7.90.9° S, 3:00PM EST, 1/15Waxing Crescent4.33 Days

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