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 2 – Mare Imbrium’s Golden Handle (all night)
On Monday night, January 2, the terminator on the waxing gibbous Moon will fall just west of Sinus Iridum, the Bay of Rainbows. That semi-circular feature, 155 miles (249 kilometres) in diameter, is a large impact crater that was flooded by the same basalts that filled the much larger Mare Imbrium to its east – forming a rounded “handle” on the western edge of the mare. The “Golden Handle” effect is produced when low-angled sunlight brightens the prominent Montes Jura mountain range surrounding Sinus Iridum on the north and west. Sinus Iridum is almost craterless, but hosts a set of northeasterly-oriented wrinkle ridges that are revealed at this phase.
Tuesday, January 3 – Gibbous Moon passes Mars (all night)
In the eastern sky on Tuesday evening, January 3, the bright, waxing gibbous Moon will be shining near the prominent, red-tinted Mars. In the Americas, the Moon will be positioned below (or to the celestial east of) Mars — close enough for them to share the view in binoculars (green circle). The pair will cross the sky together and set in the northwest before dawn. In the interim, the Moon will drift farther from Mars and the diurnal rotation of the sky will lift the Moon higher than the red planet. Around 19:00 GMT observers in most of southern and eastern Africa, Madagascar, and the Maldives can watch the Moon occult Mars.
Wednesday, January 4 – Quadrantids meteor shower peak (before dawn)
Named for a now-defunct constellation Mural Quadrant, the annual Quadrantids meteor shower runs from December 26, 2022 to January 16, 2023.
Quadrantids meteors always travel away from a radiant point in the northern sky beyond the tip of the Big Dipper’s handle. This shower commonly produces bright fireballs, because it is produced by particles dropped by an asteroid designated 2003EH.
The Quadrantids’ most intense period, when up to 50-100 meteors per hour can appear, lasts only about six hours. The peak will occur on Wednesday, January 4, at 3:00 GMT, which converts to 10 p.m. Eastern Time on Tuesday evening. The optimal time for viewing Quadrantids in the Americas will be from midnight to dawn on Wednesday, while the shower’s radiant will be climbing the northeastern sky.
A bright gibbous Moon will obscure the fainter meteors before it sets around 4:30 a.m. local time.
Wednesday, January 4 – Earth at Perihelion (at 16:00 GMT)
On Wednesday, January 4 at 16:00 GMT or 11 a.m. EST and 8 a.m. PST, the Earth will reach perihelion, its minimum distance from the Sun for the year. At that time Earth will be 91.403 million miles (or 147.099 million kilometres) from our Star. That is 1.67 per cent closer than our mean distance of 1.0 Astronomical Unit. As winter-chilled Northern Hemisphere dwellers will attest, daily temperatures on Earth are not controlled by our proximity to the Sun, but by the number of hours of daylight we experience.
Thursday, January 5 – Full Moon in the Winter Football (evening)
On Thursday night, January 5, the nearly full Moon will shine inside the Winter Football, also known as the Winter Hexagon and Winter Circle. The asterism is 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 Sirius rises in mid-evening, the huge pattern will straddle nearly 70 degrees of the southeastern sky. Hours later the asterism will stand upright in the south, with the Milky Way passing vertically through it. The hexagon is visible during evenings from mid-November to spring every year. The full Moon will shine on its eastern rim on Friday night.
Friday, January 6 – Dual shadows cross Jupiter (from 00:50 to 02:32 GMT)
On Friday evening, January 6, observers with telescopes in southern and eastern Asia and south to western Australia can watch the small, round black shadows of two of Jupiter’s Galilean moons as they slide across that planet’s disk at the same time.
At 7:50 p.m. Indochina Time (00:50 GMT), the large shadow of Ganymede will begin to cross Jupiter’s southern hemisphere, joining Io’s smaller shadow, which began its own passage across Jupiter’s equatorial zone at 7:22 p.m. ICT (00:22 GMT). One-hundred and two minutes later, at 9:32 p.m. ICT (02:32 GMT), Io’s shadow will leave the planet.
Ganymede’s shadow will complete its own transit at 10:20 p.m. ICT (03:20 GMT). These times will vary by a few minutes depending on your location.
Friday, January 6 – Full Wolf Moon (at 23:08 GMT)
The January full Moon, which always shines in or near the stars of Gemini or Cancer, will occur at 6:08 p.m. EST, 3:08 p.m. PST, or 23:08 GMT on Friday, January 6.
This one is known as the Wolf Moon, Old Moon, and Moon after Yule. The Indigenous Ojibwe people of the Great Lakes region call it Gichi-manidoo Giizis, the “Great Spirit Moon,” a time to honour the silence, and recognize one’s place within all of Great Mystery’s creatures. (You might recall that name from hearing or singing Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s The Song of Hiawatha.)
The Cree of North America call the January full Moon Opawahcikanasis, the “Frost Exploding Moon”, when trees crackle from the extreme cold temperatures. Full Moons during the winter months climb as high in the sky as the summer noonday Sun, and cast shadows in the same locations. Ray systems radiating from the more recent craters are prominent around the full Moon.
Saturday, January 7 – Bright Moon joins Gemini’s twins (all night)
In the eastern sky on Saturday evening, January 7, the bright Moon will shine a palm’s width below (or 6.5 degrees to the celestial southeast of) the bright star Pollux in Gemini. The somewhat fainter star Castor will shine above them. As the trio crosses the sky during the night, the eastward orbital motion of the Moon will carry it farther from Pollux. The diurnal rotation of the sky will drop Gemini’s stars to the Moon’s lower right after midnight local time.
Sunday, January 8 – Asteroid Pallas at opposition (all night)
On Sunday, January 8, the main belt asteroid designated (2) Pallas will reach opposition.
On the nights near opposition, Pallas will rise at sunset and set at sunrise, shining with a visual magnitude of 7.7. That is within reach of binoculars and backyard telescopes, but wait until the asteroid has risen higher in late evening for the best view of it.
On opposition night, Pallas will be situated in southern Canis Major, several finger widths to the lower right (or three degrees to the celestial southwest) of the bright star Adhara, and just a finger’s width above the medium-bright star Kappa Canis Majoris. On the following nights the asteroid will slide northwest (red path with labelled dates:time).
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.