Mercury is an evening object at the start of the month. If you can find it, it will be below the stars of Capricornus at nightfall. The Great Square of Pegasus is high just west of the meridian at sunset, the Pleiades and Hyades are high in the east, and Orion is rising. You’ll find Jupiter rising below Leo in late evening close to midnight. A last quarter moon is in Virgo between Jupiter and Mars in the early morning hours. Venus rises a closer to sunrise, followed by Saturn next to the claw stars of Scorpio. Look for Antares nearby.
You don’t see Mercury as an evening object for long. It heads into inferior conjunction on the 14th. After that, start looking for it in the morning.
Jupiter appears to be at a standstill west of Virgo in the early part of January. Watch carefully from night to night and you will see it slowly moving westward in the second half of the month.
Much faster Mars exits Virgo around the middle of the month. It’s by Zubenelgenubi in Libra in the last days of January. It will be a few days into February when the red planet is in the diamond.
Venus passes Acrab in pursuit of Saturn in the first couple days of this month. By the 6th, you see a waning crescent moon in pursuit of them both. It has passed them up by the next morning. Venus passes Saturn on the 8th. The two are closest together—separated by merely 0.1°–on the 9th at 04:15 Universal Time. The goddess keeps on going, but there’s still a pretty good show with Saturn near Antares the rest of the month. On the last mornings of January, the ringed planet is neatly placed between Sabik in Ophiuchus and the ruddy rival of Mars.
Remember Mercury? The messenger planet and Venus are heading toward each other as January ends. They will rendezvous about a week into February.
A few people in just the right places in the northern Pacific Ocean will see a lunar occultation of Mars on the 3rd. Midway Island is in just the right spot. Otherwise, the moon will pass Mars on the 3rd, Venus on the 6th, and Saturn on the 7th. New moon is on the 10th. A waxing gibbous moon occults Aldebaran on the 20th. You’re in a great place to see it from most of the continental United States and Canada. The moon will be above Orion’s head on the 21st and at the feet of Gemini on the 22nd. The moon is full on the 24th. It passes Regulus on the 26th and Jupiter on the 28th.
Earth will be at perihelion on the 2nd. It will be just over 98% of its average distance from the sun. Mercury is at perihelion on the 8th. It’s 0.31 astronomical units (earth-sun distances) from the sun.
The asteroid Ceres is at aphelion on the 6th. It orbits the sun in 4.6 years and will be just under 3 astronomical units from the sun. It is south of the star Deneb Algedi in Capricornus. But you don’t have long to find it with your telescope or binoculars. It will set within two-and-a-half hours after the sun. And to spot this 8th magnitude asteroid, you’ll have to wait for a lot of twilight to fade. Ceres is about 3.7 a.u. away from us at this time.
On the 11th, Comet 116P/Wild is closest to the sun at 2.2 astronomical units distant. It’s a 12th magnitude object. So it requires very dark skies and a very big telescope to see. The comet is 2.3 a.u. from us and 2.19 a.u. from the sun on the 11th.
Comet C/2013 US 10 Catalina is a better prospect this month. It was closest to the sun on November 15, 2015. Rising in the dawn’s light, it was virtually impossible to see. Catalina will be closest to Earth on January 12. It was a 6th magnitude object in late December. It should remain an easy binocular object from dark sky sites this month. Perhaps it will even brighten up to naked eye visibility. On the morning of the 1st, Catalina will be next to orange Arcturus. The comet moves alongside Boötes until it’s next to Alkaid in the Big Dipper’s handle on the 15th. There are other comets named Catalina. You can be sure that if you see another Comet Catalina in the years ahead, it isn’t this one. Our current spectacle with the name has been traveling for millions of years from the Oort cloud and is on an orbit that will eject it from the solar system after its only visit sunward.
Mars has its northern solstice on the 13th. The equivalent solstice on Earth happens every June. The next northern solstice on Mars happens in November 2017.
Images on this page were made with Stellarium and WinOccult.