Every week, SkyNews publishes a list of key events in the Canadian sky in This Week’s Sky. This series gives you all the latest news in Solar System movements, including where the planets are in our sky and Moon phases. From eclipses to meteor showers, This Week’s Sky keeps you updated on the best in upcoming astronomical highlights.
Monday, January 16 – The Pleiades (all night)
At about 8 p.m. local time on mid-January evenings, the Pleiades open star cluster, also known as the Seven Sisters and Messier 45, is positioned high in the southern sky. The rest of its home constellation Taurus, the Bull, will be situated below the cluster.
Visually, the Pleiades are composed of medium-bright, hot blue stars named Asterope, Merope, Electra, Maia, Taygeta, Celaeno, and Alcyone. In Greek mythology, those characters were the daughters of Atlas, and half sisters of the Hyades. They are indeed related — born of the same primordial gas cloud. To the naked eye, only six of the sister stars are usually apparent; their parents Atlas and Pleione are huddled together at the east end of the grouping.
In binoculars (inset) and backyard telescopes, hundreds of stars appear. Not surprisingly, many cultures, including Aztec, Maori, Sioux, Hindu, and more, have noted this object and developed stories around it. In Japan, it is called Subaru, and forms the logo of the eponymous car maker. Due to its shape, the cluster is sometimes confused with the Little Dipper.
Wednesday, January 18 – Crescent Moon near Antares (pre-dawn)
After the waning crescent Moon rises in the southeastern pre-dawn sky on Wednesday morning, January 18, it will be accompanied by the bright, reddish star Antares — the heart of Scorpius — twinkling just a thumb’s width to its right (or 1.5 degrees to the celestial southwest). The pair will be close enough to share the view in binoculars (green circle) until the brightening sky hides Antares. Watch for Mercury shining off to their lower left.
Friday, January 20 – Jupiter at Perihelion (all day)
On Friday, January 20, the giant planet Jupiter will reach perihelion, its minimum distance from the Sun for its current orbit. On this day, Jupiter will be 460.224 million miles, 740.659 million kilometres, or 4.95 times the mean Earth-Sun distance. Earth-Jupiter will not look larger or brighter tonight, but at Jupiter’s next six oppositions the planet will show a diminishing disk size in telescopes. Jupiter will grow in size during the years preceding the next perihelion on December 5, 2034, but it will not be this close to the Sun again until the late 2050’s.
Saturday, January 21 – New Moon (at 20:53 GMT)
The Moon will reach its new phase on Saturday, January 21 at 3:53 p.m. EST, 12:53 p.m. PST, or 20:53 GMT. At that time our natural satellite will be located in southwestern Capricornus, 5.5 degrees south of the Sun.
This new Moon will occur while the Moon is at perigee, its closest approach to Earth, producing high tides worldwide. While new, the Moon is travelling between the Earth and Sun. Since sunlight can only reach the far side of the Moon, and since the Moon is in the same region of the sky as the Sun, the Moon becomes unobservable from anywhere on Earth for about a day (except during a solar eclipse).
On the evenings following the new Moon phase, Earth’s planetary partner will return to shine in the western sky after sunset.
This new Moon will kick off the Lunar New Year observed in many Asian countries. Since the new Moon will happen on Sunday, Beijing-time, that will become the first day of the Chinese New Year worldwide. It also represents the start of their Spring Festival 春节, or Chūn Jié (“CHWUN-jee-eh”), which runs until the full Moon two weeks later.
Sunday, January 22 – Venus kisses Saturn (after sunset)
On the evenings surrounding Sunday, January 22, the brilliant planet Venus will climb past 75-times fainter Saturn in a very close conjunction. The pair will shine above the west-southwestern horizon for an hour after sunset. The two planets will be binoculars-close (large green circle) from Friday to Tuesday, and will share the view in a backyard telescope (small green circle) from Saturday to Monday.
At their closest approach on Sunday, Saturn will be positioned just half a finger’s width to Venus’ right (or 20 arcminutes to the celestial north-northwest), but your telescope may flip them around. Wait until the Sun has completely set before using binoculars or telescopes to view them. Observers at southerly latitudes might glimpse the very slim crescent of the young Moon nearly a fist’s width below the two planets.
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.