Wednesday, January 12 – Bright Moon above Ceres (evening)
On Wednesday evening, January 12, the orbital motion of the waxing gibbous Moon will carry it very close to Ceres, the largest object in the belt between Mars and Jupiter, and the first one discovered. In 2006, Ceres was reclassified as a dwarf planet. After dusk, the Moon will be positioned in the southeastern sky among the stars of Taurus, with the tiny dot of magnitude 8.0 Ceres situated less than a lunar diameter below it, i.e., to the celestial SSE. The Pleiades star cluster will be nearby. For best results, hide the bright Moon outside of the top of your field of view of binoculars (large green circle). The duo will be telescope-close, too (small green circle) – but your optics will flip and/or invert the scene. Over the course of Wednesday night, the Moon’s separation above Ceres will increase to several finger widths.
Thursday, January 13 – Mercury nears Saturn (after sunset)
Look a short distance above the southwestern horizon for a brief period after sunset on the evenings surrounding Thursday, January 13, to see the speedy planet Mercury sitting only a few finger widths to the lower right (or 3.5 degrees to the celestial west) of magnitude 0.7 planet Saturn. The pair will be close enough to share the field of view in binoculars (green circle) between January 7 and 17, buth both planets will be shifting sunward with each passing day.
Friday, January 14 – Moon crosses the winter football (evening)
The Winter Football, also known as the Winter Hexagon and Winter Circle, is an asterism composed of the brightest stars in the constellations of Canis Major, Orion, Taurus, Auriga, Gemini and Canis Minor — specifically Sirius, Rigel, Aldebaran, Capella, Castor and Pollux, and Procyon. After dusk, the huge pattern will stand upright in the southeastern sky, extending from 30 degrees above the horizon to overhead. The Milky Way passes vertically through the asterism. The hexagon is visible during evenings from mid-November to spring every year. The waxing gibbous Moon will cross the giant shape from Friday, January 14 to Sunday, January 16 (red path with dates:time).
Sunday, January 16 – Ceres stops moving (overnight)
On Sunday, January 16, the motion of the dwarf planet designated (1) Ceres across the background stars of Taurus will pause while it completes a retrograde loop that began on October 8, 2021 (red path with labelled dates:times). Tonight, the magnitude 8.1 object will be located in western Taurus, a slim palm’s width below the bright Pleiades star cluster (Messier 45). After Sunday, Ceres will resume its regular prograde motion eastward.
Chris Vaughan is a science writer, geophysicist, astronomer, planetary scientist and an “outreach RASCal.” He writes Astronomy Skylights, and you can follow him on Twitter at @astrogeoguy. He can also bring his Digital Starlab portable inflatable planetarium to your school or other daytime or evening event. Contact him through AstroGeo.ca to tour the Universe together.