Tuesday, January 25 – Third quarter Moon (at 13:41 UTC)
When the Moon reaches its third quarter phase at 8:41 a.m. EST or 13:41 UTC on Tuesday, January 25, it will rise at about midnight, and then remain visible in the southern sky all morning. At third, or last, quarter the Moon is illuminated on its western side towards the pre-dawn Sun. Third quarter moons are positioned ahead of the Earth in our trip around the Sun. About 3.5 hours later, Earth will occupy that same location in space. The week of dark, moonless evening skies that follow this phase will be ideal for observing deep-sky targets.
Wednesday, January 26 – Mars near nebulae (pre-dawn)
In the southeastern pre-dawn sky on Wednesday, January 26, the orbital motion of Mars (red path with dates and times) will carry the planet close to several bright deep-sky objects in northern Sagittarius. The Trifid Nebula (Messier 20) and the open star cluster Messier 21 will sit a thumb’s width to the upper left (or on degree to the celestial north-northwest) of Mars. The Lagoon Nebula (Messier 8) with its central star cluster NGC 6530 will be positioned just to the lower right (or 0.5 degrees to the south) of Mars. Some of the deep-sky objects will be visible in binoculars (green circle) under dark sky conditions.
Thursday, January 27 – Old Moon in the Scorpion’s Claws (pre-dawn)
When the waning crescent Moon rises in the southeast after 3 a.m. local time on Thursday, January 28, it will be passing through the up-down line making up the three claw stars of the scorpion, Scorpius. From top to bottom, those three, magnitude 2, white stars are Graffias or Acrab, Dschubba, and Fang (or Beta, Delta, and Pi Scorpii, respectively. The fainter stars Rho and Nu Scorpii bracket the trio. Scorpius’ brightest star, reddish Antares, will twinkle to their lower left.
Saturday, January 29 – Crescent Moon with Mars and Vesta (pre-dawn)
On Saturday, January 29, the pretty, slender crescent of the old Moon and the bright reddish dot of Mars will rise together in the southeastern sky shortly after 5 a.m. local time, making a lovely photo opportunity when composed with some interesting scenery. The pair will be close enough to share the view in binoculars, with Venus poised a few finger widths to the Moon’s upper left. Before the sky brightens, search for the magnitude 7.6 asteroid designated (4) Vesta located a binoculars’ field-width (green circle) to the lower left (or 6.4 degrees to the celestial east-northeast) of Mars. Vesta will approach, and then pass north of, Mars in late February. Many deep-sky objects (red labels) will share the scene.
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.