Four of the five naked-eye planets line up in the western evening sky at nightfall as the month begins, but two of them quickly drop from view. Only Saturn and Jupiter will be around by January’s end. In the meantime, bold, beautiful Orion takes center stage in the early evening sky, with Sirius, the night sky’s leading light, not far away.
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In the Sky This Month
January 28: The Spirograph
The Spirograph Nebula is in Lepus, the hare, which bounds below the feet of Orion, in the southern sky on winter evenings. It is a colorful bubble of gas and dust sculpted by a dying star. It resembles the geometric shapes produced by the old children’s toy.
January 29: Auriga
Auriga, the charioteer, rides high across winter’s evening skies. To find it, look for its brightest star, Capella, which stands high overhead in mid-evening. Capella is one of the brightest stars in the night sky and shines pale yellow.
January 30: M33
Look high in the west this evening. If your eyes are sharp and your sky is clear and dark, you might see M33, the Triangulum Galaxy. It’s three million light-years away — perhaps the most-distant object visible to the unaided eye.
January 31: Pi-Lover’s Delight
Skywatchers came up with some great names for the stars in the body and belt of Orion: Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, and others. When it came to his shield, though, the imagination failed. Six stars in a row are called Pi Orionis, with the stars numbered from top to bottom.
February 1: February
February, the shortest month of the year, is named for the Roman god of purification. The original Roman calendar consisted of 10 months, beginning with March. January and February were later added to the end of the year.
February 2: Moon and Jupiter
The planet Jupiter is in great view early this evening. It’s close to the upper right of the crescent Moon as the sky begins to darken and looks like a bright star. Jupiter and the Moon set a couple of hours after sunset.
February 3: Brightest Stars
Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, scoots low across the south on winter nights. So does a past “brightest star,” which also is in Canis Major, the big dog. Adhara held the title about 4.7 million years. Today, it is the dog’s second-brightest star.
New January 2, 12:33 pm
First January 9, 12:11 pm
Full January 17, 5:48 pm
Last January 25, 7:42 am
New January 31, 11:46 pm
Times are U.S. Central Time.
Perigee January 1, 30
Apogee January 14
The full Moon of January is known as the Old Moon, Moon After Yule, or Wolf Moon.