Star Diary Podcast: What’s in the night sky, January 2022

A guide to January 2022's night sky in the northern hemisphere.

There’s loads to see in the night sky in January 2022. On 3rd January, see if you can catch the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower, then on 18th see if you can pick out the green planet, Uranus, next to the yellow star Aretis, and the 25th you can see Jupiter next to the double star Sigma Aquarius. For details, or to find out even more about what’s up in the night sky, check out the latest episode now.

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Transcript

Ezzy Greetings, listeners, and welcome to Radio Astronomy’s Star Diary, our guide to the best things to see in the northern hemisphere night’s sky in January 2022. I’m the magazine’s news editor Ezzy Pearson and I’m joined on the podcast today by reviews editor Paul Money is going to be telling us the best things to catch in this month’s night sky. Welcome to the show, Paul.

Paul Hi Ezzy, Another year and a lot of objects and things to see in the sky.

Ezzy Yes, so January is the start of the new year. Do we have some great new things to see in the night sky this month?

Paul Ah, we’ve got a good selection of old and new, as always. But you know, we start off almost with a bang. Not quite a Big Bang. But you know, we’ve been following the planets in the evening sky for several months now, including that one that didn’t seem to go away, Venus, that seemed to just keep going. But the thing about Venus is that we are now losing it, and this is the moment. This is it. It’s gone as seen from the evening sky. So we start off the first week you have Venus lingering in the southwest break very rapidly, drops out of sight and goes into solar conjunction. But before it does, so you’ve got she got a line up really of Venus, Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter as you move away out of the bright glare of the twilight. So we’ve got a plethora of at least four planets there to play with, and the beauty about it is that Mercury’s been moving up since the end of December. Mercury’s crept up, and he’s now in a good position and so on. The 1st through took about the 6th sort of thing, we’ve actually got Venus there lingering so we can see that, but we will lose it after this. But he’s been replaced as the evening star by three others. I mean, it’s funny. We always call Venus the Evening Stars sort of thing, you know in the Morning Star will let you know. At the moment, we’ll also have Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter. So, you know, it’s quite a gathering of planets, really. And of course, that does mean that while Mercury’s in the sky, if you’re a hardy soul, I am not quite as hardy as I used to be. When you stay up all night, you can get all the planets so you could do a planet marathon, just as we were saying at the end of December, sort of thing, it’s still lingering. As long as you can still see Venus, you’ll be able to get all the planets in the sky. Yes, stay up all night sort of thing, but I’d suggest going having a quick nap in between some of them. But yeah, we got Venus, Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter. Now, as it happened, you’re looking roughly about half an hour after sunset. So, you know, the twilight will be bright. This is why Venus is a bit of a pain. It’s, a bright, which is good because that keeps it visible. So but it drops away very rapidly, but mercury moves up for a short while. So for the two weeks, the first two weeks in January, we’ve got Mercury creeping up and then dropping back itself. So as it does those sort of things, Saturn and Jupiter is also sliding into the twilight. So it’s all all sort of happening. In fact, towards the end of the month, we lose Saturn as well. So we’ll lose Venus, Mercury and Saturn in the process of this month. And at the end of the month, we’ll left … aww, poor Jupiter on its own in the bright evening twilight sky. And that’s in the southwest, so you’re going to need a good, clear horizon. I have to say otherwise anything in the way trees, buildings, anything like that will actually cause a problem. But in the meantime, on the fourth, we have I mean, we always are you every month and the clues and month, we got the Moon coming up and on the 4th, it’s actually forming a triangle with Mercury and Saturn. I don’t mention it earlier because it’s actually new on the 2nd. And so the day old Moon actually lies to the lower… It forms a triangle with Venus of Mercury. The trouble is, the Moon’s below them sweet sets rapidly. And in fact, by the time twilight sort of darkens enough for you to see, I’ll actually be very well. I think it will be very difficult, almost impossible to view when he’s between Venus and Mercury. But the next night, it forms almost a triangle, a right angle triangle with Mercury and Saturn. It’ll be very, very thin. I like crescent moons. Look out for the Earth shine on it because you know, that’s the second on light bouncing off the Earth’s atmosphere back onto the night side of the Moon, so almost like a fill in flash for photographers. They’d be very familiar with that sort of idea as well.

Ezzy I do like it when it’s about sort of like, is it still there? Just it’s just a sort of very, very thin sliver of light across the night sky, I think always looks really pretty.

Paul And in deep Twilight. The twilight adds to the effect as well. I think the golden colours of Twilight really help bring it out so fast on the 4th, and when Mercury and Saturn on the 5th, it moves between. Saturn and Jupiter, then on the 6th, the Moon will be thicker crescent and it’ll be to the left of Jupiter as well. So we’ve got this moon moving past these planets, which it does so and has done for several months now. Well, now is the last time it’s going to do it in the evening sky, past these planets as I say, we’re going to lose the rest, in actual fact. But in the meantime, we’ve got we’ve got a meteor shower. Unfortunately, the first few months of the year, any year is always pretty badly served by meteor showers, and we usually have to wait until the April Lyrids before we get one. But we do have one in January. And that’s the Quadrantids, the Quadrantids actually from an old constellation, the mural quadrant. And so it’s a defunct constellation, but it actually has the radiant not too far from Arcturus so it can Boots, Boötes, however you want to pronounce it sort of thing. So, you know, it’s one of those that it’s very favourable in the sense that a new moon is on the 2nd. So if this is peaking on the 3rd, these are ideal circumstances and that meteor shower itself is the radiant circumpolar, so it doesn’t set. So, you know, we’ve got a chance to see it all the way through the actual night if you want. Now, the meteo rates, we always talk about the zenith hourly rate. So and it is a bit of a problem because it’s the perfect conditions looking absolutely directly up through a crystal clear or obscured sky, no haze or anything like that. And it doesn’t work like that! Because you start to diminish as you look further down the sky, then you start towards the horizon, there’s the thickening of the atmosphere, and it dims the media so that we say a hundred plus per hour, really, we’re probably a quarter of that visually. He’s looking at because this one is idea. Its under perfect conditions with no Moon because nine times out of 10 most of the meteor showers throughout the year, a few of them are going to be affected and ruined by the moonlight. So this is January 3rd do have a look out during the course of that night into the fall and see if you can see any of the Quadrantids. And if you can track them back towards Boötes then you probably got one of the Quadrantids itself. Now, back to the planets in the evening sky, Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun. So this is the eastern elongation, which is why we see low in the southwest in the sky. So I always think of it for the general person to the left of the Sun. That means it’s in the evening sky. If it’s to the right of the Sun, It’ll be in the morning sky like won’t happen until next month. But Mercury is that great elongation from the Sun, and it seems to be gradually heading towards Saturn. You think, hooray, we’re going to have a really close conjunction, but he doesn’t because he sort of slows down and stops and then starts going back, even though Saturn is dropping into the evening twilight. So it’s actually Mercury’s closest to Saturn on the 12th, five days later, five evenings later, you should say, and still down in the bright twilight. So, you know, after that, Mercury will become harder to see. It’s beginning to actually drop right down into the twilight, and so it will be joined by Saturn as well and as I say, then we’ll only be left with actually Jupiter. So it’s a good chance to catch them. But as say, Mercury won’t get as close to Saturn as it has done in the past sometimes, but really nice conjunction. Whether they fit in the field of view of a telescope, we should see them in binoculars, wide field binoculars, 7×50. You should get them both and a pair of binoculars. Okay, so the Moon does carry on. I mean, the Moon doesn’t stop, does it? You know? Yeah, but you know, the next time and this is harder because the planet is fainter, but it’s actually on the 7th close to, and it’s a thick crescent now, close to Neptune. It forms a bit of a triangle with Neptune. And, I think it’s psi… Like Aquariuii so there is a whole series of them. A trio of stars is sort in that region, but Neptune is actually quite faint. Its magnitude 7.8, something like that. So it’s actually quite faint. But again, you should better to pick it up in large binoculars. And I always think it’s nice because that gives you an idea on the 7th where Neptune. The Moon guides you. You always like it when the Moon guide you to targets that you probably wouldn’t otherwise look for, especially when they’re not naked eye. And then on the 11th keep up and give you an idea of where the planets are sort of thing on the 11th, it’s actually forming a bit of a triangle is Mu Ceti and Uranus. So we’ve got Uranus and technically Uranus is naked eye. I say technically a very yes

Ezzy If you’ve got a clear sky and good eyesight.

Paul And in a way, no Moon next to it. So ironically though the moon is actually now two days past first quarter, which took place on the 9th, it’s actually near Uranus, I say. And ironically, both of them lie actually in southern Aries, but it’s better to use Mu Ceti because it’s actually the one directly below them that forms a nice triangle. So the moon light will sort of wash out Uranus, but Uranus is a lot easier to see actually in binoculars, so you should better spot that quite well. And he’s got a star called 29 Aretus just above it. We’ll come to that in a short while. So we’re now talking about the Moon going through… I like it when… I mean, a lot of the time it seems to be in empty space in which, yes, it is an empty space Paul. What are you talking about, you mad, it’s in space? After all, it’s going around the Earth. But as it passes through the constellations, It’s often in very sparsely populated areas of the sky. But 12th to 13th we have the Moon passing through Taurus, and I love Taurus because I mean, to me, it’s like, you know, two major star clusters make up the main constellation. We’ve got the Pleiades and the Hyades. On the 12th the Moon is to the lower right of the Pleiades. You want to be looking about, you know, you can leave it till a couple of hours after sunset, so the sky’s got darker. So around about six o’clock sort of thing. So the sky is obviously, the sun’s Setting around around about 4ish around about this time. So about six o’clock, you’ve got a dark sky, you’ve got the moon up, and to the lower right of the Pleiades. And then the next night, it’s actually directly above the Hyades. In fact, it’s due north of Aldebran, which is the orange eye of the Bull, the red eye Bull they often say. It looks more orange to me, if anything. And of course, Aldebaran is part of the Hyades cluster, or it looks like it is. But the reality is it’s actually half the distance. So it’s not part of the cluster whatsoever. It’s a line of sight, just as the Moon is forming a line of sight itself with the cluster and Aldebaran. It’s always like it when it’s in an area like this, because the Constellation is quite easy to recognise a Taurus, I think and say, you’ve got these two wonderful clusters there as well to actually view at the same time. As the Moon carries on and on the 17th it’s full. Now, normally I would mother really watch with a full moon. I mean, you can see that they sort like the ray patterns from the major craters, Tycho, Copernicus, et cetera. So I think they are interesting to look at if a telescope. But in this particular case, it forms almost an exact line with Castor and Pollux in Gemini. So I always love it because I know people will say, What were those two stars above the moon on such and such a night, and you can say “Ah that was January the 17th and that was Castor and Pollux in Gemini”. Now the other thing to look out for, and it happens either of the side of full Moon is, lookout, if there’s slight mist… I mean normally, you wouldn’t really want to observe when it’s misty skies, but look out because you might get a lunar halo. And I always think the full moon was more moonlight, and that makes the halo brighter. So you can have it a few days before a few days afterwards. But as I say, it’s when it’s full, you’ve got the most moonlight to create the actual lunar halo itself. So then that can be quite pretty. And a lot of people get some nice atmospheric photographs.

Ezzy There’s definitely been been some times, but I’ve been walking home from work or whatever, and you look up because I live in the middle of the city. So there’s not a lot of stargazing you can do when you walk home, but occasionally you sort of look up and you see this absolutely beautiful lunar halo, and that’s always great to do.

Paul And that’s the beauty. At least it gives us something. If you’re in a city or a major town, you got a lot of light pollution. It gives you something to look forward to and sort of see in the sky. As you say, it is a pain when you’re talking about deep sky objects, but the bright planets and things like this really help to make up for it. Now, the next night, in actual fact we got we mentioned Uranus before. This is Uranus is actually directly below. It’s also stationary. Now the outer planets from the point of view of the Earth do something weird, they do this weird wobble sort of thing. So so they seem to slow down, stop and then go into reverse. Now we know they’re not physically doing that in their orbits. It’s the fact that we’re on the Earth. We’re on a moving platform. And so it’s our motion that sort of makes it look odd that it slows its motion against the background star. It goes backward for a short while, for a few weeks to a couple of months, and then it rejoins the normal motion again. So it’s had a stationary point here and it’s directly below 29 Aretus. Now it’s interesting because. It’s almost the same brightness as Uranus. Uranus is around magnitude 5.7 5.8. 29 Aretus is magnitude six. So it’ll be interesting to see, the can you notice a difference? While Uranus is close, either side by several days. But actually the the 18th is when it directly below it, it’s actually stationary as well. So if you can see it, then look for that difference. If you can see the slight difference in the brightness, it is only a few tenths of the magnitude. I mean, it’s a good test, the eyesight to see whether you can notice that. The other thing to notice is the colour, can you see colour? Uranus is classically known as a greenish coloured planet, and I have to say in large binoculars and small telescopes, I definitely see the green. Wide field binoculars, I’m not quite so sure. So have a look because 29 Aretus to see yellow is an F8 spectral type star, so it’s yellowish star as well. So that’s quite a contrast yellow and green, and that’s right in our main part of the spectral sensitivity of our eyes. So, you know, it would be interesting to see whether anybody actually picks that up, see if they notice, the colour and the difference in the brightness. Now it’s all happening roughly in the middle, into the third week of January. And so what we’ve got here is on the 19th, we’re back to the evening sky into the evening twilight. This might be your last chance really to capture Saturn. Mercury’s dropping a way off, as we mentioned earlier. But on the 19th, Saturn lies very close in just below theta Capricorni. So if the question is in the twilight, are you going to able to see the star? You know, hopefully you’ll see the planet itself. But yes, this might be your last chance to get Saturn, but the fact that you’ve got the bonus of a star right next to it as well, will add to the appeal. So I’ll be trying for that. Then on the 25th – Jupiter. Now we sort of left Jupiter out,  we mentioned a few times, but Jupiter is the one that’s going to linger a little bit longer. We’ve got it for another probable month. So at the moment on the 25th of January, it actually lies above Sigma Aquarii. Now there’s a huge difference between them because Jupiter’s magnitude -2.1, whereas sigma is magnitude 4.8. It’s a very close double star, so it might be worth putting a telescope on. I think it’s around about three and a half seconds, so it is quite a tight double sort of thing, you know, and there are unequal components as well. But because he’s magnitude 4.8 this star, it’s on a par with some of the moons of Jupiter. The only difference is it’ll actually be below Jupiter, to the south of Jupiter itself, but it’ll be interesting to have a look at that sort of thing. And if you can see Callisto is certainly clear and visible in the actual view , and I know two of the other moons are on the same direction between Callisto and Jupiter as well. Now the next night we’re back to the Moon. And the look with 10, 15×70  the binoculars if you’ve got them or small telescope. And because the Moon will be creeping closer too, and this is the morning sky, we’re told about five o’clock in the morning. Start watching from then because this is an occultation of a quite bright star. What’s more, it’s a double, its alpha Libra. Now the thing about that is Zubinelgenubi. That’s a real mouthful, isn’t it? But it is a wonderful double star, easily split in binoculars. It’s just about if I remember, right? You could potentially have got exceptionally eyesight you could potentially split it, but I’d use a small telescope to watch, and it’s the fainter component that actually gets occulted first. So you get double – you got two for the price of one, buy, get one free sort of thing on occultation. So watch as the moon creeps closer and then occult the secondary first and then the primary after that. And then around about, we’re talking about  just as twilight starts, they will actually reappear on the dark side of the moon itself. So there we are. That’s an occultation as well, and to actually finish off, we’re back into the morning sky, but guess who’s bounded back? Venus! I mean, well, we just got rid of it at the beginning of the month, but it’s one of those situations where Venus really just moved quickly into natural morning sky. So from about middle of the month, start looking at because we’ve got Mars as well that both in Sagittarius and so Venus will gradually creep closer to Mars. But, I like line ups. We’ve got a slim crescent moon on the 29th, so I’ve set it for about seven am in the morning, so twilight started. But you love the crescent moon, Mars and then Venus in the sky as well to actually end our selection of objects in the monthly sky. So quite a lot there to actually see lots of planets, but I thought we got rid of Venus. But no it’s back with a vengeance if you like getting up in the morning sky. So there we have it Ezzy.

Ezzy It certainly sounds like we’ve got quite a lot of things going on in the night sky this month and in fact, in the morning skies as well. So in the 3rd of January, we’ll have the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower followed the next night by a quartette of planets passing by the slim crescent moon, including it making a right angle triangle with Sun and Mercury. Then on the 17th, we’ve got the full moon forming a straight line with the stars Castor and Pollux, which is the head of the Gemini constellation. In case you don’t know which ones those are, Then on the 18th, we’ll have the Green Planet Uranus next to the yellow star our yetis, which is a great way to see if you can try and pick out those colour differentials. Then, on the 25th, Jupiter will be right next to the double star Sigma Aquarius by making it a great target for binoculars or telescopes to see if you can pick apart all of those various different parts of it and perhaps even get a couple of moons of Jupiter in there as well. And then finally, we’ll be ending the month out with the return of Venus, this time not in the evening skies, it will be in the morning skies. So if you fancy getting up early, there’s a nice new challenge for you to get to the mornings. So thank you very much for taking your time to explain all of that to us.

Paul My pleasure. And let’s hope we get some clear skies.

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Ezzy Absolutely. If you want to find out even more about the spectacular sights that will be gracing the night sky this month. Be sure to pick up a copy of BBC Sky at Night magazine, but we have a 16 page pull out sky guide with a full overview of everything worth looking up for in January 2022. 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 detail star charts to help you track your way across the night sky from all of us here at BBC Sky at Night Magazine. Goodbye.