What's in the night sky of the week of 9 to 15 January 2023 in our weekly stargazing guide

Chris Bramley Hello and welcome to Star Diary, the podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. You can subscribe to the print edition of the magazine by visiting skyatnightmagazine.com or digital edition by visiting on iTunes or Google Play.

Ezzy Pearson Greetings listeners and welcome to Star Diary, a weekly guide to the best things to see in the Northern Hemisphere's night sky. As we are based here in the UK, all times are in GMT. In this episode we'll be covering the coming week from the 9 to 15 January. I'm Ezzy Pearson, the magazine's features editor. I'm joined on the podcast today by reviews editor Paul Money. Hello Paul.

Paul Money Hello, Ezzy. Another interesting week and of course, I look forward to what's happening in the rest of the year as well.

Ezzy Yeah, I'm really excited to hear it. So come on Paul, tell us what's coming up this week and beyond.

Paul Well, this week our Moon now lies in the morning sky. So if you like to watch things like the winter constellations, the winter stars, Orion, Taurus and don't forget in Taurus, you've got Mars lingering there as well, so you know really bright. And just a matter of interest, compare the red colour of Mars with Aldebaran. Aldebaran is an orangey red star. So you compare the two colours whilst Mars is in the vicinity. You've got things like Auriga, and of course at the moment the brightest star in the night sky – and I do emphasise the night sky because I once said in the sky, and somebody pointed out the Sun was the brightest one – we have Sirius. So there's a lot to be seen. And of course, there's lots of details of what to see in the deep sky with binoculars and telescopes in the January issue Sky Guide as well. So we really ought to use that as a reference. However, I mentioned the Moon. Yes, it's in the morning sky. It lies near to Regulus, Alpha Leonis, on 10th and 11th, so it's effectively either side really as it moves past it. Then Porrima, which is Gamma Virginis on 13th and Spica on the 14th. So they're in the pre-dawn sky and I do like these encounters with stars sort of thing because people do notice them. They always say, What's that star next to the Moon? So, you know, we can tell them, just check the Star Diary podcast or go online and check the magazine website. Now Mars reaches what we call a stationary point on 12th. Now, up until now, it's been moving west against the background stars. But after this, it takes over and does what we call normal prograde motion. So therefore it's the normal motion and therefore it's moving towards the east. So it looks strange and it must have been really weird to the ancients to see the planet, which means wandering star. It comes to a halt, stops – what's going on there, who's pull on the brakes there? – and then it starts moving the opposite direction again. So I must admit... We always have this happen in this particular station, stationary point always occurs after opposition. So of course opposition was on 8 December sort of thing. So we're well past that now. We're a month past that. So by the time we get into the second week of January, say around about 12th, it reaches a stationary point and as I say it's in Taurus as well. So that's where you want to compare it with Aldebaran. Now, looking ahead, Mars actually, it's one of those that it keeps ahead of the Sun. It's motion keeps it longer in the sky. So we actually keep it right up until July and then it'll be lost in the evening, twilight. In early July, we'll have a chance for to see close to Venus. So that's worth looking at. They won't have a conjunction, they won't be very close, but they'll be a few degrees apart sort of thing. So as far as I'm concerned, close enough that you should notice them in the twilight sky. After that, it'll actually move into the morning sky sort of thing, but is very low in the twilight. So I don't think we'll be seeing Mars after that. So the first half of the year, certainly into July, that's when we'll keep Mars. So we'll have had Mars for a long time in our sky, most of 2022. And now at least half in 2023 as well. Meanwhile, Saturn lies low in the evening sky, and after January, to be fair, it will be lost as it reaches conjunction in February on the 16th with the Sun. So, you know, that's it its gone. It takes a while to emerge, even though it emerges in March, but it very poorly placed. And the problem with March, because the nights are slowly getting lighter and so we find it sort of struggles against that. So it's really about... Saturn about... Late July onwards, that it'll start to really become more prominent. Opposition in August, 27 August. And after that it's in the evening sky. So it's more of a second half of the year planet at the moment, but is very slowly for us. Astrophotographers and planetary imagers. It is slowly creeping up the ecliptic. It takes time and it does have an orbit of 29 years. So it takes its time slightly, but it is improving.

Ezzy We have gone through a couple of years where the planets haven't been particularly well placed. So are they slowly improving and getting better across the board?

Paul Yes, they are. I mean, Jupiter's really improved. I mean, I remember back just two years ago, we were moaning about Jupiter being fairly close to Saturn. Round about 2020 they were quite close to Saturn. And they were in Sagittarius and they were at the lowest they could be. So they were awful because, well, from our latitude we're looking through a thicker part of the atmosphere. So it makes the image mushy so it's harder to see detail. But Jupiter, of course, has an orbital period of 12 years, so it's racing up the ecliptic now. So it's becoming really well placed to observe and in a high position in the sky. So astrophotographers are getting some great pictures of Jupiter now. In the case of the other planet, I say Saturn, it's crawling, but it is with each prog... For the good news is each year it's going to improve and it's going to get better. It just takes a lot longer, nearly twice as long as Jupiter. Neptune and Uranus are quite high up actually in the... along the ecliptic. So in actuality they are quite decently placed. Neptune lies in the evening sky but will be lost by February. And again, because it's a faint planet really needs binoculars or a small telescope. You're not going to really pick it up until just before, say, late July into August with opposition in September. And then after that it's in the evening sky as well. So again, it's more of an evening planet for the latter half of the year. Jupiter we mentioned, it's good to view in the evening until about late March then moves into the morning sky. It does actually reappear quite... Like Venus, it's bright, so it reappears quite quickly. Its opposition is November. So again, it's taken a time but we are morning sky. So it is gradually getting to be more of a late winter spring planet with Jupiter. But it is improving because it's getting higher in the sky. Uranus, well it's with us until around mid April in the evening. Sky and then conjunction with the Sun in May. So after that you have to wait, always until about July time with the opposition in November for it to become well placed to view. And although it's not a spectacular, we actually do have a partial lunar eclipse and that's on October the 28th. Now... that really is partial.

Ezzy In it's something like 10% or something.

Paul But you know, I've watched some of these. I will watch one, Lorraine and I set up, this was many years ago I had a review, telescope, it was a Vixen review telescope and we had one I think it's around the early mid 2000, early 2010 and we, we set off because it was rising in the evening... just going in and it was a little tiny piece. But the excitement as it rose, it was silly really. It was such a tiny percentage sort of thing. So, you know, I still get excited for that sort of thing. It'll be lovely to see it, actually in the sky as it goes through, but it is a small one.

Ezzy I will say this is for our listeners who are in the UK. We actually have a lot of listeners over in the US and you're going to have a bit more luck with eclipses this year. On the 14 October, there's going to be what's called an annular solar eclipse. This is where there's a very thin ring of sunlight that's still visible around the outside of the ring. I've never actually seen one, which I think that must be a very different experience to seeing a total solar eclipse, because I don't think you can see the corona like you can during a total solar eclipse, but it's still a very amazing things to see and I'm sure there'll be lots of people going to experience that one because it's going to go right the way across the country, like the one back in 2017 that. So that's going to be super interesting. There's also a total solar eclipse on the 20th of April, but that's going to be visible from one very, very tiny corner from Australia I think is probably the only place where we have listeners that are going to be able to see it.

Paul Hey, sounds like another holiday to me, both to America and to Australia. I need to raise more money. The annular eclipse is on my bucket list because I've seen a total solar eclipse several times because I did various trips for them. But an annular one is on my bucket list because that's the one I haven't seen. And I gather it is just as a spectacular. But you're right, you don't get the corona because you still got this bright ring around it. But yes, I would still look to see something like that. You know, on me bucket list. It's like the green flash. You know, I've not seen that. That's another one on the list. Something I must see the green flash. I'm getting envious. I've had a lot of friends say, oh yeah, I've seen that. Grr.

Ezzy That one. You kind of have to get a bit lucky though, I think. That's just you have to be looking in the right place at the right time, and you can't really control when that's going to happen. Not that you can control anything of the night sky, but you can at least know when it's coming.

Paul Exactly. Well Ezzy, that's the end of that round up for the year and for this week's observations. So, you know, I hope people get. A chance to see them, don't you?

Ezzy It certainly sounds like there's a lot of great things that are going to be visible throughout the year. We will, of course, be covering them in the magazine, Sky at Night Magazine. So do be sure to subscribe to the magazine if you want to make sure that you're not going to miss out on any of the big events that are happening throughout the year and get your monthly sky guides delivered straight to your door. But this week, however, we've got it's going to be a great week to see the winter constellations in the evening sky as the Moon is going to be right out of the way. And it's also a great opportunity, because Mars is going to be in Taurus. Maybe compare it to the other red star, Aldebaran. That's always a great thing to do. The moon is going to be next to several bright stars throughout the week, so keep an eye on that one. And then on 12 January, Mars is going to reach what's known as its stationary point, where it appears to change direction that it's moving across the night sky. So certainly a lot of things to look forward to, not just this week, but going forward through the rest of the year. So thank you very much Paul for taking us through them all.

Paul My pleasure.

Ezzy If you want to find out even more spectacular sites that will be gracing the night sky throughout the month, be sure to pick up a copy of BBC Sky at Night Magazine where we have a 16 page pull-out Sky guide with a full overview of everything worth looking up for. Whether you like to look at the moon, the planets, or the deep sky, whether you use binoculars, telescopes or neither, our sky guide has got you covered with the detailed star charts to help you track your way across the night sky. From all of us here at BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Goodbye.

Chris Bramley Thank you for listening to this episode of the Star Diary podcast from the makers of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. For more of our podcasts, visit our website at SkyatnightMagazine.com or head to Acast, iTunes or Spotify.


Elizabeth Pearson
Ezzy PearsonScience journalist

Ezzy Pearson is the Features Editor of BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Her first book about the history of robotic planetary landers is out now from The History Press.