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In the Sky This Month

This month is all about the planets. Venus, the Evening Star, climbs higher into the sky night by night. It passes Saturn, which is headed in the opposite direction, late in the month. Jupiter is high and bright during the evening, outshining every other pinpoint of light except Venus. After its spectacular opposition in December, Mars remains a bright orange beacon that’s visible most of the night. Finally, little Mercury puts in a decent morning appearance in the second half of January.

January 28: Morning Mercury

The planet Mercury is in view in the early morning now. It’s farthest from the Sun in our sky, so it will hang around for a few days. It is in the southeast at first light, and looks like a bright star, although it’s so low that you need a clear horizon to spot it.

January 29: Winter Circle

One of the biggest and brightest of the geometric figures in the night sky is the Winter Circle or Hexagon — a ring of seven bright stars, with Betelgeuse, the orange shoulder of Orion, as its hub. The figure is in the east and southeast as night falls.

January 30: Moon and Mars

Mars and the Moon will play hide-and-seek for much of the year. The Moon will pass in front of the Red Planet four times, briefly hiding it from view. From the U.S., the best of those events takes place tonight. Mars will disappear from view from Florida across Texas to southern California.

January 31: Moon, Mars, and Taurus

The Moon is especially close to a star with a dangerous-sounding name tonight: El Nath, “the butting one.” It marks the tip of one of the horns of Taurus. It’s the bull’s second-brightest star.

February 1: Mizar and Alcor

Look toward the northeast this evening for the Big Dipper. Its handle points toward the horizon. The second star from the end of the handle is Mizar. If you look at it under dark skies, you should see a faint star very near Mizar, called Alcor.

February 2: Groundhog Day

Today is Groundhog Day, which is one of several commemorations of a cross-quarter day. Such days occur about half way between a solstice and an equinox. In many cultures, a cross-quarter day represented the beginning of a new season, not its middle.

February 3: Moon and the Twins

The twins of Gemini are in the east at nightfall, near the Moon. The brighter twin, Pollux, is above the Moon. Castor, which is a system of six stars, is about the same distance to the upper left of Pollux.

Full MoonFull January 6, 5:08 pm

Last quarterLast January 14, 8:10 pm

New MoonNew January 21, 2:53 pm

First QuarterFirst January 28, 9:19 am

Times are U.S. Central Time.

Apogee January 8

Perigee January 21

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