You should be able to spot all of the planets this month, but a couple will be a challenge as they are close to the Sun.
Venus starts low in the afternoon sky but towards late January. It sweeps past the Sun joining Mars which is starting to creep up in the morning sky. Both are quite low before sunrise - rising at 6:30pm in the South-East. don’t mistake the star Antares for Mars.
Mercury is popping up in the afternoon sky - slowly heading towards Saturn until it sets around 5:15pm with the ringed planet setting at 6:00pm in the South-West.
Jupiter is farther to their left setting later around 8:00pm, Uranus and Neptune are still up for a while in the night sky but are a bit tricky to find.
Neptune is around 11 o'clock of Jupiter in between the constellations Pisces and Aquarius in an area of faint stars with little to sign post you to, setting around setting around 9:30pm.
Uranus may be easier to find being higher up and just to the left of the small constellation Aries - which is easier to find. But it's in an area with little to star hop, with it setting around 2:15am. You’ll have more time to spot it than Neptune.
There’s a couple of promising comets in the January skies...
Comet c/2019 L3 Atlas will appear its brightest on the 10th at around mag 9.7 - which makes it a target for comet hunters with even a small scope or 10 x 50 binoculars. The Moon gets out of the way towards the end of the month, which will be the best time to have a hunt for it.
This comet will reach its perihelion this month when it will be 330 million miles from the Sun. It will skim through the constellation Gemini and past one of its twins, Castors right arm on 11th, heading towards his legs in February. Now, it’s quite hard to explain the precise location of a comet unless its right next to a specific object, as they move each night.
Another comet to keep an eye on is 19/Borelly which was discovered in 1904. It was visited by a probe called deep space 1, which discovered it has a shape resembling a chicken leg or drumstick. At approximately 5 miles wide, it takes 6.9 years to make an orbit of the Sun - looping from inside the orbit of Mars to outside the orbit of Jupiter and back again. It came closest to earth at 175.5 million on 11 December. It is currently moving up through Cetus into Pisces and will be around 8.9 magnitude - reaching its best on 1st February.
Both these comets are great targets for astrophotographers, with Atlas currently sporting a short tail, I look forward to seeing your pics posted to our facebook group.
This evenings Moon is a great time to spot the jewelled handle, where the Jura mountains tips catch the sunlight making them shine out of the darkness to the top left of the Mare Imbrium.
Pop back to the Moon tonight at the same location and see if you can spot the lower section of the Jura mountains - where it juts out into the Mare. This part looks like a maiden sitting
on the moon with wavy hair. Best seen with reflectors as these flip the image showing her sat on the rocks peering across the Moon.
If you fancy a bit of Minor planet hunting, 7 Iris reaches opposition tonight at around 7.7 magnitude - making it a great time to try and spot it. It's located between the stars Pollux in Gemini and Procyon in Canis Minor. It slowly moves each night up towards Pollux’s knee - being just below it on 1st February. Iris is a large asteroid orbiting between Mars and Jupiter in the main portion of the asteroid belt and is about 124 miles in diameter - making it larger than 99% of asteroids.
Mercury and Saturn appear quite close in the evening sky around 30 mins after the Sun sets at 4:19pm. They will be visible for you to spot for around an hour and a half before setting themselves towards the South-West. If you have a telescope, being careful not to look at the Sun, see if you can see Mercury’s current crescent phase as it is between us and the Sun.
A new feature I read about on this morning’s bright moon you may be able to make out is a large lava patch - a mare called Orientale. Located along the Moon’s left side Orientale is the largest and best-preserved example of a multi-ring basin. Any impact craters larger than about 180 miles in diameter are known as basins. Orientale is about 580 miles wide and looks a bit like a bullseye on a darts board, but we only get to see the edge of it as the Moon wobbles sightly in its orbit tilting this side slightly towards us.
Our Moon occult’s a double star in Libra around 5:23am, but check timings for your area as times differ slightly depending on location. Both stars are visible with the naked eye, but binoculars
will be great a great tool to see this with.
The stars themselves are around 77 light years away and will start to slip behind the Moon's bright side around 5:23am - with the next star following suit 9 mins later. But, as I said, it will vary. So I’d say be out looking at 5:00am and as they begin to reappear from the opposite side at around 6:35am.
The constellation Canis Major, the greater dog, doesn’t get that high in our UK skies, but this month is the best time to spot it. The constellations best feature is the brightest star in our sky.
Sirius, the dog star - this huge blue-white star is where the term ‘the dog days of summer’ comes from because Sirius is behind the Sun as seen from Earth in Northern Hemisphere during summer. It's easily found by drawing a line down from Orion's belt. Apart from this, Canis Major also holds another slightly more hidden gem... M41 is a bright open star cluster just below Sirius that can be seen with binoculars, but a scope will bring out a bunch of blue and red-orange stars. The cluster has a true diameter of 25 light years and is about as big as the full moon in our skies - containing about 100 stars - including several red giants and several white dwarfs. But we can only resolve around 50 of these through our scopes.
Check out this morning’s Moon and you should be able to spot the awesome crater called Aristarchus - which is the biggest feature facing us on the Moon at 25miles. It’s located to the top left of
the Moon and if you use a telescope you may notice a few valleys or fault lines here to.
Aristarchus is a strangely bright crater because it is a relatively young formation at approximately 450 million years old. The solar wind has not yet had time to darken the excavated material yet by the process of space weathering, so it appears brighter than its surroundings.
See if you can spot a morning Mars, Venus and thin Moon around an hour and 20 before sunrise. Venus will be the brightest with Mars just to its right with a thin crescent moon father right from that. Pop a telescope on Venus and you will see it has a very thin crescent phase.
This months naked eye object has to be the constellation of Orion as it has so many awesome features within it. Orion the hunter is hard to miss in our UK skies.
The first feature you will notice with your eyes is of course his famous belt of 3 bright blue stars - which astronomers often use to sign post their way to Sirius or Aldebaran by drawing a line through them. To the bottom right you have the bright blue star, Rigel, a blue-white supergiant which is about 870 light-years from the Sun.
Saiph to its left and the more famous Betelgeuse above on his left shoulder - a red supergiant that is said to be near the end of its life ready to explode in a supernova between now and the next million years.
Bellatrix is the star on Orion’s other shoulder with Meissa at his head.
As Orion is such a cool constellation, there are actually a few objects I would like to add as our Binocular objects of the month. As you are there already, you may as well have a look around.
First of all Orion’s belt, with binoculars you’ll notice it is actually an oval shape of around 50 stars mostly bright blue and white. Slip down a bit and you may spot the faint smudge of the Orion Nebula hanging below them.
Pop up to Orion’s head star Meissa and you will see there’s actually a kind of vertical mini Orion’s belt here.
Pop to Betelgeuse and just above it on Orion’s elbow is my favourite group of stars, NGC 2169.
Now your expecting me to say ‘well seeing as were at Orion this month it must be the great Orion nebula’. But no... I’m going to go for a lesser known Messier object known as M78, which is a reflection
nebula which is the brightest diffuse reflection nebula in the sky.
A reflection nebulae are clouds of interstellar dust which reflect the light of a nearby star or stars. The energy from these stars is insufficient to ionize the gas of the nebula to create an emission nebula, but is enough to give sufficient scattering to make the dust visible. It has an apparent magnitude of 8.3 and lies at an approximate distance of 1,600 light years from Earth. it will not be as easy to see, but this is one I do not have on my online guides so I will definitely be checking it out to add.
Now for a new object of the month.
Now, I am not really an Astrophotographer, but I do dabble in a bit of smartphone and DSLR camera photography of the stars just for fun. So this is really just me popping an object out there for you guys to see if you can capture it and teach us all how you did - rather than us telling you how to capture it. So pop out and have fun trying.
M43 De Mairans Nebula, or the running man. Separated from the main M42 Orion Nebula by only a dark lane of dust, M43 is illuminated by a massive star is illuminating and sculpting its landscape of dust and gas with its radiation. In pictures, the dark gas here you can make out a silhouette of what looks like a man running - hence the name.
Clear skies guys, and remember... there’s a billion worlds in your back garden!