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Night Sky January 2020

Click for printable version(chart and text)

Click for printable version(chart only)

Current Night Sky

(Previous sky charts)


To use the star chart: print it out and then use it to locate the planets and constellations at night by holding it above your head and pointing the 'South' pointer of the chart southwards.

Northern Hemisphere

Ian Morison tells us what we can see in the Northern Hemisphere night sky during January 2020.

The Planets

  • Jupiter passed behind the Sun on December 27th, 2019 and will be lost in the Sun's glare in the early part of January. But, by the middle of the month, it will become visible, shining at magnitude -1.9 in the pre-dawn sky and, by month's end, will rise about an hour before the Sun. A low eastern horizon will be needed and our views of the giant planet and its Gallilean moons will be hindered by the depth of atmosphere through which it will be observed.

  • Saturn passes directly behind the Sun on the 13th of January so could not be seen until the very end of the month. Then, equipped with binoculars and a very low eastern horizon, it might be glimpsed at magnitude 0.6 in the pre-dawn sky as it rises about 40 minutes before the Sun - but please do not use binoculars after the Sun has risen.

  • Mercury passes in front of the Sun (superior conjunction) on the 10th of January so will not be visible until the very end of the month. Then, at magnitude -1.0, it will set about 70 minutes after the Sun and will have an elevation, low in the west southwest, of ~9 degrees. Binoculars may well be needed, but please do not use them until after the Sun has set.

  • Mars can be seen towards the southeast in the pre-dawn sky at the start of the month. It then rises some three hours before the Sun and will be best seen at around 7am having an elevation of ~11 degrees. It will have a magnitude of +1.6 and a 4.3 arc second, salmon-pink, disk. By month's end it will be seen further round towards the south before dawn and its magnitude will have increased slightly to +1.4.

  • Venus rises rapidly in the twilight sky this month. As January begins, it could be best seen, shining at magnitude -4, at about 5 pm having an elevation of ~11 degrees above the south-western horizon. As the month progresses, remaining at magnitude -4, its elevation at sunset increases and will be best seen at about 6 pm having an elevation of ~22 degrees. During the month its angular size increases from 13 to 15 arc seconds but, at the same time, it phase (the percentage of the disk illuminated) decreases from 82% to 74% and so the brightness remains constant.

Highlights

  • January, evening: the Double Cluster and the 'Demon Star', Algol. January is a good time to look high in the south after dark towards the constellations of Cassiopea and Perseus. Perseus contains two interesting objects; the Double Cluster between the two constellations and Algol the 'Demon Star'. Algol in an eclipsing binary system as seen in the diagram below. Normally the pair has a steady magnitude of 2.2 but every 2.86 days this briefly drops to magnitude 3.4.

  • January: find M31 - The Andromeda Galaxy - and perhaps M33 in Triangulum. In the evenings when the Moon is not prominent, the galaxy M31 in Andromeda will be visible high in the south. There are two ways of finding it:

    1) Find the square of Pegasus. Start at the top left star of the square - Alpha Andromedae - and move two stars to the left and up a bit. Then turn 90 degrees to the right, move up to one reasonably bright star and continue a similar distance in the same direction. You should easily spot M31 with binoculars and, if there is a dark sky, you can even see it with your unaided eye. The photons that are falling on your retina left Andromeda well over two million years ago!

    2) You can also find M31 by following the "arrow" made by the three rightmost bright stars of Cassiopeia down to the lower right.

    Around new Moon (24th January) - and away from towns and cities - you may also be able to spot M33, the third largest galaxy after M31 and our own galaxy in our Local Group of galaxies. It is a face on spiral and its surface brightness is pretty low so a dark, transparent sky will be needed to spot it using binoculars (8x40 or, preferably, 10x50). Follow the two stars back from M31 and continue in the same direction sweeping slowly as you go. It looks like a piece of tissue paper stuck on the sky just a bit brighter than the sky background. Good Hunting!

  • January 4th - before dawn: Mars lies above Antares in Scorpius. If clear before dawn on the 4th, one will see Mars (magnitide +1.55) just above the first magnitude red giant star Antares.

  • January 7th - evening: the Moon lies within the Hyades Cluster. In the evening one could see the waxing Moon, moving towards full, lying above Aldebaran in the Hyades Cluster. Aldeberan is a red giant star far closer to us than the Hyades.

  • January 10th - after sunset: Venus lies above Delta Capricornus. After sunset, low in the southwest, Venus will lie above the ~3rd magnitude star Delta Capricornus or Deneb Algedi.

  • January 27th - evening: a very thin crescent Moon lies between Venus and Mercury. If clear after sunset, looking towards the southwest one could see a very thin crescent Moon, just 3 days after New, lying below Venus and above Mercury.

  • January 7th and 24th: Two Great Lunar Craters These are two great nights to observe two of the greatest craters on the Moon, Tycho and Copernicus, as the terminator is nearby. Tycho is towards the bottom of Moon in a densely cratered area called the Southern Lunar Highlands. It is a relatively young crater which is about 108 million years old. It is interesting in that it is thought to have been formed by the impact of one of the remnents of an asteroid that gave rise to the asteroid Baptistina. Another asteroid originating from the same breakup may well have caused the Chicxulub crater 65 million years ago. It has a diameter of 85 km and is nearly 5 km deep. At full Moon the rays of material that were ejected when it was formed can be see arcing across the surface. Copernicus is about 800 million years old and lies in the eastern Oceanus Procellarum beyond the end of the Apennine Mountains. It is 93 km wide and nearly 4 km deep and is a classic "terraced" crater. Both can be seen with binoculars.

Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske from the Carter Science Centre in New Zealand speaks about the Southern Hemisphere night sky during January 2020.

Welcome to a new decade of astronomy, discovery and fun!

Haritina Mogosanu and Samuel Leske from New Zealand have recorded a live observing session of the New Zealand's night sky.

This month we look up into the night sky of January and February.

We are actually at Stonehenge Aotearoa (New Zealand) in the middle of the night. To the south is the Southern Cross with the famous globular cluster Omega Centauri almost about to peer behind the tree, and then we can follow the Milky Way up past the asterisms of the Diamond Cross, the False Cross, Canis Major, Orion, then we have Taurus, the Pleiaides, or Matariki as we are calling these stars here, Aries, and that's the end of the Milky Way.

This time of the year we can see only one spiral arm of our galaxy, the one we actually live in, the Orion Spur. Everytime we look towards Orion we look toward the edge of the galaxy. Every time we look towards Scorpius (which is now well beyond the horizon) we look towards the centre of our galaxy.

This time of the year is also when we see very bright stars, not as many clusters and objects that are at the centre of the galaxy but still plenty in Carina Vela and Crux region here, all these objects are oldies but goldies and we still have the Magellanic Clouds to admire, they are very beautiful, especially under a dark sky like the one from Wairarapa.

Stonehenge Aotearoa is located in the North Island of New Zealand in Wairarapa, which is one of the darkest locations in New Zealand.

We decided to do something different this month and record live on this location from where we usually do our deep sky stargazing away from the light pollution of the big cities.

With us we have the giant 16 inch telescope and we have been galaxy hunting all evening. The field of galaxies hunting is pretty amazing at the moment. In Grus, there is the Grus quartet, with four really bright galaxies; in Cetus there is Cetus A - we find about 5 galaxies around that one; in Fornax, if you follow the great Eridanus river around the sky, which goes from Orion's Rigel, all the way to Achernar here in New Zealand and is now at zenith, well up there are about 10 galaxies, at one point we had 6 galaxies simultaneously in the eyepiece. In terms of starhopping you will find these half way through between Rigel and Achernar, as you look towards Achernar from Rige, there are 4 stars looking like a parallelogram, to the left of those stars is a tiny little triangle and that's where you see these galaxies.

We also decided to try out our narrow band OIII filter on the telescope and had a great look at Eta Carinae nebula and Tarantula nebula and browsed the Large Magellanic Cloud to see nebula after nebula. The filter makes a great difference to viewing.

We are now going to move the large Leviathan telescope and look at the 47 Tucanae globular cluster, which is one of the greatest globular clusters in the southern hemisphere, here in New Zealand is located on the south circumpolar region; the nucleus of this globular cluster is very well defined. You can resolve the stars to the centre in the core and it almost looks tri dimensional.

Now we look at Sculptor galaxy, which is a famous and easy-to-look-at galaxy here in the southern hemisphere. We can see the galaxy spanning across the entire eyepiece and fits in a very pointy triangle that also spans the length of the eyepiece almost perpendicular to the galaxy. Through the middle of Sculptor are four stars, another parallelogram.

We will now try and find M1, the Crab nebula in Taurus, which also looks great with the OIII filter on. M1 is a wispy cloud remnant from a supernova explosion that occurred in 1054. Taurus is really high, and we can also see the Pleiades, Hyades and Aries on the northern horizon.

In New Zealand, the stars of the zodiacal constellations shift slowly through the northern part of the sky and they move on the sky counter clockwise looking north, completely the other way around like in Europe. We can also see Orion that is upside down in the sky and from it we can observe the galactic arm stretching all the way to the Southern Cross where we can see with the naked eye the Flounder - or the Coalsack as we know it in Europe, the Flounder (Te Patiki) is the Maori name of this region of space where dust obscures the light that comes from the stars. Inside it, is the Jewel Box.

The Magellanic clouds are very bright right now. Canopus is almost at Zenith, and we can make a line from Sirius, the brightest star in the sky to Canopus, the second brightest star in the sky, if you extend that line it will point towards the Large and Small Magellanic Clouds - the four objects are aligned.

Back to the Crab Nebula it looked fluffy and beautiful. Hard to believe this was visible in the daytime for three weeks when the star went supernova in 1054. Close to it, we also observed Orion's nebula, a place where stars are born. In this telescope, M42 is very bright with the four stars of the trapesium being very clearly visible. We are also observing M78 that Sam believes is the forgotten cousin of M42 on which everyone focuses usually, but seeing this beautiful reflection nebula in M78 lit up by the brightest stars, you realise it's a great object on its own, and you can notice a dust line that stands out quite well.

Next we look at Eta Carinae, just because it's so beautiful. We always visit this one. The dust lines are spectacular and there is a really crisp boundary between the nebula and the lines of dust. With the OIII filter, the nebula is very sharp. Close to it, the Wishing Well cluster (NGC 3532) is a massive collection of stars that fills the eyepiece, with almost equidistant stars, one of them is really bright, the cluster is almost resembling a snowflake. On the other side of the Carina Nebula, sitting almost straight on the Galactic Equator is Gem Nebula (NGC 3293). Both Gem and Wishing Well are objects located between the Southern Cross and the False Cross.

The Gem Nebula is small and you can clearly see one red giant star, that stands out. It is a very beautiful cluster, that is similar to the Jewel Box but often overlooked because it's close to Eta Carinae.

Same sky we look at now in January at midnight will be visible earlier and earlier throughout the month.

We are now shifting to NGC 2546 in the Milky Way, just a bit away from the False Cross, a bit to the left of it, in Puppis.

For the grand finale we looked at the really hard to see globular clusters in Musca, which now is almost at 2 o'clock from the Southern Cross. The sky is so clear that we can see Omega Centauri very easily with the naked eye. NGC 4833 is a lovely globular cluster about 6.9 magnitude where we can resolve stars to the centre, it has a tiny star at the side. Then we look at another fainter glob mag 7.2 NGC 3472, quite big and we can see the diffuse cloud-like smudgy pattern, but on top there are many stars we can resolve, a faint glob - compared to everything else we've been looking at.

Next we go to another galaxy near Sculptor close to the star Deneb Kaitos. This one is a faint galaxy, elongated, pretty faint, and a few stars in front of it. NGC 247, a 9.1 spiral galaxy.

Now we look for another glob, NGC 288, a magnitude 8.1 globular cluster visually just beyond sculptor galaxy. Very faint, surrounding it is a group of stars similar to Corona Borealis but the telescope version.

Grus is now closing to the horizon, 10 degrees , with all its visually double stars, looking like a necklace.

Tonight we have seen beautiful things in the sky and shared them and this amazing New Zealand night sky, where the milky way is so bright, it's been a great night, with more galaxies than you can poke a stick at, a really great night.

Thank you to Stonehenge Aotearoa for letting us plant our telescopes in their field and to Rhian Sheenhan for the use of his amazing music - which we always listen to when we do observing.

We wish you clear skies from New Zealand.

Hari and Sam

Provided courtesy of: http://www.jodcast.net/