From a 75 year old friend of mine:
“The first twelve days of January was Grandma’s bible when it came to how the year was going to go. I never knew if it meant anything more than moisture. I can remember her saying we better check the cistern, cause it isn’t going to rain this month. There were several times when water was hauled out, and dumped into the cistern, and grandma was right, it didn’t rain.”
This upcoming January I am going to write my own observations and then check them during the year.
And now what is in the sky in January 2012?
At the beginning of January, the Sun is in the constellation Sagittarius and it moves into Capricornus on January 20th. In the Washington, DC area, the Sun rises at 7:27 am and sets at 4:56 pm.
By the end of January, sunrise moves to 7:16 AM and sunset to 5:28 PM, adding for us 37 minutes of daylight. However, for stargazers it is still reasonably dark between 6:00 pm and 6:45 am.
The Earth reaches its closest point to the Sun (perihelion) very early on January 5th. The Moon is at its First Quarter on Sunday January 1st, and the full Moon is on Monday, January 9th. The next first quarter Moon is on January 31st.
Image credit: Society for Popular Astronomy
In January, Venus can be seen after sunset the south-western sky. It could be seen only until 7:00 PM at the beginning of the month, but will stay till 8:30 PM at the end of January. However, this time Venus is so bright that it can be observed even in twilight.
Note that on 26th January evening (from ~ 7 PM till 8:30 PM), Venus can be seen next to the crescent Moon about 6 degrees away. Both celestial objects just fit into the FOV of a small telescope or a pair of binoculars and can be easily pictured.
Mars is rising in the east in the late evening, and it’s high in the southern sky around 4 AM. Mars looks like a particularly bright star and can be mixed up with Arcturus which rises about an hour later. Both have a distinguishing orange-red color, but Mars is on the right side and shines with a steadier light. On January 13th and January 14th evenings, both Mars and the gibbous Moon can be seen about 9 degrees apart, on 13th Moon lies to the upper right of Mars, while on 14th it moves to the lower left of Mars. The positions of Mars against background stars in 2012 can be found on the nakedeyeplanets.com web site.
Jupiter is proceeding slowly westwards out of Pisces, crossing into Aries on January 8th. It will shine brighter than any of the stars; however not quite as bright as Venus. Some of Jupiter’s 4 major moons may be also seen (even in binoculars) as tiny points close to the planet. They are easiest to see at twilight. On Monday, January the 2nd sunset, the growing Moon will appear above and a little to the right of Jupiter. Both bodies will be seen separated about 5 degrees away.
Saturn can be seen in the constellation of Virgo, on left of its brightest star Spica. It appears a little brighter than Spica, and can be recognized because it shines with a steadier light. At dawn on Monday 16th, the last quarter Moon will be seen to the lower right of Saturn, about 9 degrees away, and about 3 degrees below Spica.
The Quadrantid meteor shower suppose to be one of the year’s best, producing more than 100 meteors per hour. They could be seen coming from near the Northern Star. In January 2012, we expect them from January 1 to 5. The maximum of the activity is expected during the night of the 3rd January 2012.
Image credit: spaceweather.com
The radiant of this shower is an area inside the constellation Boötes, while the name comes from an obsolete constellation Quadrans Muralis, which is now part of Boötes. While the Quadrantids are a rich shower, they are seldom observed, because of weather in January. Another reason is its shortness. The shower lasts a few hours at most. In January 1-5, 2012 the Moon will be setting in the north-west, so it shouldn’t cause too much interference. And because of richness of the shower, if conditions permit, we might see one Quadrantid every two or three minutes.
Aurora Borealis are impossible to predict in advance. However, activity on the Sun is currently rising from a prolonged minimum, and we are expecting to see some at the end of 2011 and beginning of 2012. And they appear to show up in more southern latitudes. So, it’s always worth checking the northern sky on any clear dark night.
Algol the famous variable star can be found the constellation Perseus, and it is almost as bright as Polaris. It shows a periodical variation of its apparent brightness of 2 days, 20 hr and 49 min. Algol is an eclipsing binary star, where one star periodically occults the other in their orbit around one-another. Each time, it takes the star a couple hours to dim, and a few more to return to normal.