How to see the planets in the night sky, January 2022

Find out what planets will be prominent in the night sky throughout January 2022.

Venus is in its crescent phase in January 2022. You might be fortunate enough to catch the planet in the evening sky right at the month’s start, but it’s heading for inferior conjunction on 9 January so you don’t have long.

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On 1 January, a telescope will show Venus as a slender 2%-lit crescent, a remarkable sight if you have clear skies.

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Þ Venus will appear as a 2%-lit crescent on 1 Jan, and will increase to 14%-lit on the 31 Jan. Credit: Pete Lawrence
Þ Venus will appear as a 2%-lit crescent on 1 Jan, and will increase to 14%-lit on the 31 Jan. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Being thin and low in altitude, this crescent is susceptible to the unstable atmosphere we have to look through for objects close to the horizon, so plan to catch it as early as you can after sunset.

As ever, be safe when hunting for Venus and make sure the Sun is below the horizon before looking for it.

If you’re more experienced, it is possible to locate Venus during the day when the Sun is up, but as it’s getting close to the Sun now, this is not recommended unless you know what you’re doing.

Following inferior conjunction on 9 January, Venus rapidly re-emerges into the morning sky, greatly assisted by the planet being north of the ecliptic plane – the plane of Earth’s orbit around the Sun, which also marks out the apparent path of the Sun against the background stars.

Photograph showing Venus as a thin crescent
As a thin crescent, Venus is an incredible sight through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence

On 14 January, a telescope will reveal Venus as a 1%-lit crescent, 1 arcminute across. This is at the limit of resolution for the human eye.

On this date the planet rises an hour before the Sun.

By the time the end of the month has arrived, the phase of Venus will have increased to 14%-lit, its apparent diameter having shrunk to 49 arcseconds.

Observing Venus will have become a little easier too, the planet now rising 135 minutes before the Sun.

How to see the planets, January 2022

The phase and relative sizes of the planets in January 2022. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence
The phase and relative sizes of the planets in January 2022. Each planet is shown with south at the top, to show its orientation through a telescope. Credit: Pete Lawrence

Venus

  • Best time to see: 31 January, 07:00 UT
  • Altitude: 9˚ (low)
  • Location: Sagittarius
  • Direction: Southeast
  • Features: Phase, faint shaded markings.
  • Recommended equipment: 75mm, or larger

Mercury

  • Best time to see: 7 January, 30 minutes after sunset
  • Altitude: 8˚ (low)
  • Location: Capricornus
  • Direction: Southwest

Mercury shines at mag. –0.7 in the evening twilight at the month’s start when it sets, with Venus, about 80 minutes after sunset. It reaches greatest eastern elongation on 7 January, setting 100 minutes after the Sun, but dimming to mag. –0.5.

The dimming continues and on 13 January, now shining at mag. +0.4, Mercury appears 3.4˚ from mag. +0.9 Saturn.

Mars

  • Best time to see: 31 January, 07:15 UT
  • Altitude: 6˚ (low)
  • Location: Sagittarius
  • Direction: Southeast

Mars is a morning planet at the start of 2022, rising two hours before the Sun on 1 January when mag. +1.5 Mars lies 5.5˚ from its sky rival Antares (Alpha (α) Scorpii).

This offers a good opportunity to compare the planet with its mag. +1.0 stellar rival. The name Antares means ‘rival of Mars’. Mars never gains much altitude under January’s brightening dawn.

Jupiter

  • Best time to see: 1 January, 17:00 UT
  • Altitude: 23˚
  • Location: Aquarius
  • Direction: South-southwest

Jupiter is a bright evening planet, visible from 17:00 UT at January’s start, 23˚ above the south-southwest horizon. It shines at mag. –2.0.

A waxing crescent Moon passes near Jupiter on the evenings of 5 and 6 January. By the end of January, Jupiter appears against the dusk twilight as its evening observational window draws to a close.

Saturn

  • Best time to see: 1 January, 17:00 UT
  • Altitude: 12˚
  • Location: Capricornus
  • Direction: Southwest

Saturn is an evening planet, but not well placed, affected by the evening post-sunset twilight glow. Mag. +0.9 Saturn is joined by mag. –0.6 Mercury and a thin 5%-lit waxing crescent Moon on 4 January.

Look for the trio 80 minutes after sunset. Venus is there too, but closer to the Sun. Jupiter completes the line-up, following 19˚ to the east. Mercury appears 3.6˚ from Saturn on the 14 January. On this date Mercury and Saturn appear similar in brightness.

Uranus

  • Best time to see: 1 January, 20:00 UT
  • Altitude: 52˚
  • Location: Aries
  • Direction: South

Uranus is well placed at the month’s start, reaching over 50˚ altitude when due south, as seen from the UK’s centre. But the planet’s visibility degrades towards the month’s end. Uranus shines on the edge of naked-eye visibility at mag. +5.7 in southern Aries.

Neptune

  • Best time to see: 1 January, 18:15 UT
  • Altitude: 30˚
  • Location: Aquarius
  • Direction: South-southwest

On 1 January, mag. +7.9 Neptune is about 30˚ above the south-southwest horizon as darkness falls. By the month’s end, this value will have decreased to 15˚. Optical assistance is required to spot Neptune, the minimum equipment being binoculars.

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This guide originally appeared in the January 2022 issue of BBC Sky at Night Magazine.