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Night Sky: Visible Planets, Moon Phases & Events, January 2015

The night sky tonight and on any clear night offers an ever-changing display of fascinating objects you can see, from stars and constellations to bright planets, often the moon, and sometimes special events like meteor showers. Observing the night sky can be done with no special equipment, although a sky map can be very useful, and a good beginner telescope or binoculars will enhance some experiences and bring some otherwise invisible objects into view. Below, find out what’s up in the night sky tonight (Planets Visible Now, Moon Phases, Observing Highlights This Month) plus other resources (Skywatching Terms, Night Sky Observing Tips and Further Reading).

night sky watching
The night sky is more than just the moon and stars, if you know when and where to look.
Credit: Karl Tate/SPACE.com

Monthly skywatching information is provided to Space.com by Geoff Gaherty of Starry Night Education, the leader in space science curriculum solutions. Follow Starry Night on Twitter @StarryNightEdu.

Editor's note: If you have an amazing skywatching photo you'd like to share for a possible story or image gallery, please contact managing editor Tariq Malik at spacephotos@space.com. [Related: 10 Must-See Stargazing Events to Look Up for in 2015]

Night Sky Photos:

Videos

Sky Events January 2015

Moon Phases

Full Moon, January 2015
Sunday, Jan. 4, 11:53 p.m. EST . The Full Moon of January is known as the “Wolf Moon” or “Old Moon.”
Credit: Starry Night software

Sunday, January 4, 11:53 p.m. EST

Full Moon

The Full Moon of January is known as the “Wolf Moon” or “Old Moon.” It rises around sunset and sets around sunrise; this is the only night in the month when the Moon is in the sky all night long. The rest of the month, the Moon spends at least some time in the daytime sky.

Tuesday, January 13, 4:46 a.m. EST

Last Quarter Moon

The Last Quarter Moon rises around 12:30 a.m. and sets around noon. It is most easily seen just after sunrise in the southern sky.

Tuesday, January 20, 8:14 a.m. EST

New Moon

The Moon is not visible on the date of New Moon because it is too close to the Sun, but can be seen low in the East as a narrow crescent a morning or two before, just before sunrise. It is visible low in the West an evening or two after New Moon.

Monday, January 26, 11:48 p.m. EST

First Quarter Moon

The First Quarter Moon rises around 11 a.m. and sets around 1 a.m. It dominates the evening sky.

Observing Highlights

Saturday, January 3, 9 p.m. EST

Quadrantid meteor shower peaks

A waxing gibbous Moon will interfere with viewing this meteor shower. The best meteors will be visible after midnight, about 90 degrees away from the radiant in Boötes.

Tuesday, January 6, 6:56–8:08 a.m. EST

Double shadow transit on Jupiter

The shadows of Io and Europa will fall simultaneously on Jupiter.

Thursday–Monday, January 8–12, dusk

Mercury close to Venus

Mercury will be within one degree of Venus for five days, making it easy to spot in evening twilight. Mars is also visible higher in the sky.

Friday, January 9, 8:15–10:05 p.m. EST

Double shadow transit on Jupiter

The shadows of Io and Europa will fall simultaneously on Jupiter.

Friday, January 16, 1 hour before sunrise

Saturn and the Moon

Saturn will be close to the slender waning crescent Moon, just before sunrise Tuesday morning.

Friday, January 16, 10:51–11:59 p.m. EST

Double shadow transit on Jupiter

The shadows of Io and Europa will fall simultaneously on Jupiter.

Monday, January 19, dusk

Neptune and Mars

Neptune and Mars will pass within 15 arc minutes of each other, a rare planetary conjunction.

Double and Triple Shadow Transit on Jupiter, Jan. 23-24, 2015
Friday–Saturday, Jan. 23–24, 11:35 p.m.–03:00 a.m. EST. The shadows of Io, Europa, and Callisto will fall simultaneously on Jupiter; this is an extremely rare event, which will not occur again until 2032.
Credit: Starry Night software

Friday–Saturday, January 23–24, 11:35 p.m.–03:00 a.m. EST

Double and triple shadow transit on Jupiter

The shadows of Io, Europa, and Callisto will fall simultaneously on Jupiter; this is an extremely rare event, which will not occur again until 2032.

Thursday, January 29, dusk

Aldebaran and the Moon

The waxing gibbous Moon is east of the red giant star Aldebaran and the Hyades star cluster. The bright Pleiades star cluster is above and towards the west.

Planets

Mercury is well placed in the evening sky close to Venus.

Venus, January 2015
Venus is an “evening star” in the southwestern sky just after sunset.
Credit: Starry Night software

Venus is an “evening star” in the southwestern sky just after sunset.

Mars spends most of the month in Aquarius, low in the southwestern sky after sunset.

Jupiter now rises in the early evening in the constellation Leo, and shines brightly in the southern sky the rest of the night. The current series of double shadow transits culminates in a triple shadow transit on the night of January 24.

Saturn moves from Libra into Scorpius on January 17 the southeastern morning sky.

Uranus is well placed in Pisces in the evening sky, setting in late evening.

Neptune is low the western evening sky in Aquarius.

Skywatching Terms

  • Asterism: A noteworthy or striking pattern of stars within a larger constellation.
  • Degrees (measuring the sky): The sky is 360 degrees all the way around, which means roughly 180 degrees from horizon to horizon. It’s easy to measure distances between objects: Your fist on an outstretched arm covers about 10 degrees of sky.
  • Visual Magnitude: This is the astronomer’s scale for measuring the brightness of objects in the sky. The dimmest object visible in the night sky under perfectly dark conditions is about magnitude 6.5. Brighter stars are magnitude 2 or 1. The brightest objects get negative numbers. Venus can be as bright as magnitude minus 4.9. The full moon is minus 12.7 and the sun is minus 26.8.
  • Terminator: The boundary on the moon between sunlight and shadow.
  • Zenith: The point in the sky directly overhead.

Night Sky Observing Tips

  • Adjust to the dark: If you wish to observe faint objects, such as meteors or dim stars, give your eyes at least 15 minutes to adjust to the darkness.
  • Light Pollution: Even from a big city, one can see the moon, a handful of bright stars and sometimes the brightest planets. But to fully enjoy the heavens — especially a meteor shower, the constellations, or to see the amazing swath across the sky that represents our view toward the center of the Milky Way Galaxy — rural areas are best for night sky viewing. If you’re stuck in a city or suburban area, a building can be used to block ambient light (or moonlight) to help reveal fainter objects. If you’re in the suburbs, simply turning off outdoor lights can help.
  • Prepare for skywatching: If you plan to be out for more than a few minutes, and it’s not a warm summer evening, dress warmer than you think necessary. An hour of observing a winter meteor shower can chill you to the bone. A blanket or lounge chair will prove much more comfortable than standing or sitting in a chair and craning your neck to see overhead.
  • Daytime skywatching: When Venus is visible (that is, not in front of or behind the sun) it can often be spotted during the day. But you’ll need to know where to look. A sky map is helpful. When the sun has large sunspots, they can be seen without a telescope. However, it’s unsafe to look at the sun without protective eyewear. See our video on how to safely observe the sun, or our safe sunwatching infographic.

Further Reading

Moon Phases: How the lunar cycle works, from full moon to new moon. Also find out when is the next full moon.

Constellations: The history of the Zodiac constellations and their place in night sky observing.

Lunar Eclipses: How they work, plus find out when’s the next lunar eclipse.

Solar Eclipses: How they work, the types, and when the next one occurs.

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