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In the Sky This Month

Some of the brightest stars in the sky decorate the long, cold nights of January. Beautiful Orion is in view almost all night, trailed by Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. All five planets that are visible to the unaided eye are in view as well, adding to the beauty of winter nights.

January 16: Aries

One of the dimmest but best-known constellations of the zodiac is in fine view right now. Aries, the ram, stands high in the sky at nightfall, and drops down the western sky during the evening.

January 17: Orion Nebula

The Orion Nebula is a fuzzy patch of light just below the three bright stars that represents Orion’s Belt. The nebula is a vast cloud of gas and dust that has given birth to thousands of stars over the last few million years.

January 18: Morning Mercury

Mercury, the solar system’s smallest planet, will be at its greatest distance from the Sun in the morning sky tomorrow. It looks like a fairly bright star quite low in the southeast as dawn brightens, to the lower left of Saturn, another planet.

January 19: Fornax

Fornax, the furnace, is quite low in the south as night falls right now. Created in the 17th century, it originally was called Fornax Chemica, after a small heater that was used for chemistry experiments. The name was shortened a few decades later.

January 20: More Fornax

The constellation Fornax, which is low in the south at nightfall, has only one modestly bright star, Alpha Fornacis. Binoculars show that it consists of two stars. One is bigger and heavier than the Sun, while the other is smaller than the Sun.

January 21: Leading the Dog

Two “dog stars” hunker low in the east and southeast as night falls at this time of year. From most of the U.S. one of them, Procyon, rises a bit before the Dog Star Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. The name Procyon means “before the dog.”

January 22: Moon, Antares, Saturn

The crescent Moon will slide past several bright companions over the next few mornings. Tomorrow, the bright orange star Antares is to the lower right of the Moon at first light, with the golden planet Saturn to the lower left of the Moon.

Current moon phase

First QuarterFirst Jan. 5, 1:47 pm

Full MoonFull Jan. 12, 5:34 am

Last quarterLast Jan. 19, 4:13 pm

New MoonNew Jan. 27, 6:07 pm

Times are U.S. Central Time.

Perigee January 10

Apogee January 21

The full Moon of January is known as the Old Moon, Moon After Yule, or Wolf Moon.