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Wednesday, January 1, 2020

What's In The Sky - January 2020

January kicks off the New Year with wonderful sights for backyard astronomers to enjoy with friends and family. Don't forget to bundle up on clear, cold evenings as you explore the sparkling night sky. Here are a few of our top picks for January stargazers:

Quadrantid Meteor Shower

The Quadrantid Meteor Shower will be the first substantial meteor shower of 2020, with an estimated peak rate of around 120 meteors per hour. The shower will be active until January 12th, but peak rates are expected around 01:00 PST on January 4th. The Moon will be in the first quarter but fortunately will set around midnight providing little interference.

Don’t miss the Quadrantid meteor shower peak on 4 January 2019. Image Credit: Astronomy Now
Don’t miss the Quadrantid meteor shower peak on 4 January 2019. Image Credit: Astronomy Now

New Moon

The nights around January 24th will be the best nights for observations due to the dark skies resulting from the New Moon. Bundle up, grab a telescope and your astrophotography gear and get out there to view and image those elusive fainter deep sky objects.

January Close Approaches
  • The Moon & Mars 2°40' 07:00 PST January 20
  • Venus & Neptune 0°18' 18:00 PST January 27
Orion High in the Sky

Their namesake constellation will be well-placed for backyard astronomers throughout January. Some of our favorite targets in or near Orion are:
  • M42, The Great Nebula In Orion - Visible as the middle star of Orion's sword, this emission nebula looks amazing in everything from binoculars to a large aperture Dobsonian. Can you see the trapezium, the 4-star system at the center? Even viewers from moderately light-polluted areas can get a good sense of the glory of this object using an Orion UltraBlock or Oxygen-III filter.

  • M78 - Another, much fainter, emission nebula M78 is located just left and above the left-most star in Orion's belt. Again, an Oxygen-III filter can help.

  • NGC 2174/2175 - A large emission patch and star cluster, this complex is located near the top of Orion's raised "hand". Under dark and clear skies this can be seen in larger binoculars such as Orion's 15x70 or 20x80 Astronomy Binoculars.

January Challenge Object

Just west of Rigel, the bright blue/white star that marks the western "knee" of Orion, lies the Witch Head Nebula (IC 2118), in the neighboring constellation Eridanus. The Witch-Head is a reflection nebula that shines from reflected light off of Rigel, like the reflection nebula in the Pleiades, M45. You don't need a big telescope; a wide field of view, low power, and a dark sky are needed to see this challenging nebula. (Hint: Don't use filters)

All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.

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