Happy New Year dear friends of the Lonely Photon!
As we just entered wintertime in the northern hemisphere, the nights are long and cold, and the skies are dark and rich of targets: a real treat for astronomers and astrophotographers alike. January this year sees the Moon playing a major role, with two conjunctions and the Wolf Moon on January 18, but don’t miss out on the Quadrantid meteor shower, which will deliver some stunning “shooting stars”.
Here’s the best of this month:
January 2 – New Moon. The New Moon is the first lunar phase, when the far side of our natural satellite is fully lit leaving the side visible from Earth in the dark. Mark this date on your calendar for this is the best time to observe or photograph faint objects such as galaxies, nebulas or star clusters as there is no moonlight brightening the sky!
January 3 – Quadrantid Meteor Shower. Generated by the debris left behind by the transit of the asteroid 2003 EH1, the Quadrantid meteor shower reaches its peak on this particular night. From a dark site it is possible to see up to 120 meteors per hour whereas from light polluted cities this number may be somewhat lower. The Quadrantid has its radiant point in the constellation Bootes although meteors can be spotted pretty much everywhere in the sky, so wear your warmer clothes, grab some hot drinks and…good luck! This event is best observed with the naked eye as a telescope would significantly reduce your field of view.
January 4 – Conjunction of the Moon and Saturn. The first conjunction of the new year takes place in the constellation Capricornus, when a 2-days old Moon passes just 4°11′ south of Saturn, the ringed planet. The show starts at around 5:15pm CET over the south-western horizon and will last nearly 2 hours before the two sink below the western horizon. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars can deliver amazing views!
January 6 – Conjunction of the Moon and Jupiter. New day (or night), new conjunction. This time a 4-days old Moon is paying a visit to Jupiter and its moons, passing just 4°27′ to their south, in the constellation Sagittarius. The event will start at around 5:20pm CET above the south-western horizon and will be visible until 9pm CET. This event is visible to the naked eyed although a pair of binoculars can deliver amazing views!
January 18 – Full Moon. The first full Moon of the year is the Wolf Moon. The name comes from the ancient Native Americans and refers to the period of the year when wolves were heard howling. Some other names for the January’s full Moon are “Center Moon”, which refers to the middle of the cold season, “Frost Exploding Moon”, “Freeze Up Moon” and “Severe Moon”, all referring to the coldness of the season. The full Moon is obviously well visible to the naked eye but the view through a telescope or binoculars is an unforgettable experience.
DSOs in January. This is the coldest season in the northern hemisphere and being outside imaging DSOs can be very challenging at high latitudes. However, the sky in this period is as dark as it gets and all efforts are soon rewarded. One glance with the unaided eye and you can immediately make out some of the treasures that populate the winter night sky: from Orion the hunter and its jewel, the Orion Nebula (M42), to the Pleiades (M45) and Hyades (C41), some of the most beautiful star cluster, passing from Jupiter and Saturn, which are visible in the early night.
The Andromeda Galaxy (M31) and the Triangulum Galaxy still lie high in the sky, perfectly positioned to be photographed, whereas if you prefer observing/imaging nebulas you won’t be deceived by the Embryo Nebula (NGC 1333), the Horsehead and Flame Nebula (NGC 2023 and NGC 2024) and Casper the Friendly Ghost (M78).
Other targets typical of this season are the Rosette Nebula (NGC 2244), , the California Nebula (Sh2-220), the Flaming Star Nebula (IC 405), the Heart Nebula (IC 1805) and the Soul Nebula (IC 1848), the Wizard Nebula (NGC 7380) and the North America Nebula (NGC 7000).