Night Sky Guide

7 Must-See Astronomy Events in the January Night Sky (2024)

Happy New Year! As 2024 kicks off, it’s a great time to make a resolution: to go stargazing and appreciate the night sky more! While January has fewer night sky events than December 2023, it’s still a great chance to start the new year out with some quiet solitude under the stars.

In this list of astronomical events in the January night sky, you’ll see a few meteors streaking quickly across the sky – and a few comets making their way at a more leisurely pace. There are also some good chances to spot our planetary neighbors, if you enjoy planet-gazing as well as stargazing.

December Night Sky Hero

While not necessary to view any of them, if you want a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, I have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes and binoculars. On that page, you’ll find resources on how to find a good piece of astronomical equipment that fits your budget and helps unlock the wonders of the January night sky.

Ready to dive into this month’s night sky events? There aren’t many, but as you’ll read, that’s because I’m getting a bit more discerning in what I encourage you to bundle up, head out, and try to spot. Let’s do it!

This post was originally written in January 2018, and has been updated annually – most recently in December 2023.

January 2 – M41 is Well-Placed

Night Sky in January - M41 - cafuego via Flickr

January doesn’t usually start with a large number of night sky events, but it does in 2023; head out on January 2nd for a great chance to see one of the prettiest Messier objects in the night sky.

While the Messier Marathon isn’t until March this year, you can spot Messier objects throughout the year, and sometimes they reach an apogee (high point) where they’re particularly well-placed for viewing. Such is the case for Messier 41, the open star cluster sometimes called “The Little Beehive Cluster” in Canis Major.

On January 2nd, M41 will reach a high point around midnight local time; this is a great time to pull out your stargazing gear and gaze deep into space.

January 4 – Peak of the Quadrantids Meteor Shower

Night Sky in January - Quadrantids - thepixeltrail via Flickr
Photo credit: thepixeltrail via Flickr

For the first astronomy event you can see this year, there’s a meteor shower to look for. The Quadrantids, the first meteor shower of the year, is expected to peak in the morning of January 4th.

That morning, look for a maximum of 80 meteors per hour radiating from a point in the northern sky. It’s important to note that the Quadrantids, while an active shower, may see maximum activity for only a few hours on the peak night – or in this year’s case, morning.

As a tip, you don’t need to look at the northern sky to see the meteors. Instead, scan the whole northern half of the sky to try and see these somewhat faint meteors as they appear.

January 7 – Mercury at its Morning Peak

Mercury in Evening Sky - sagesolar via Flickr
Photo credit: sagesolar via Flickr

In 2023, I ticked an item off my astronomy bucket list when I finally spotted Mercury for the first time – with my unaided eye one morning in the Maldives. If you want a chance to do the same (though admittedly not in the Maldives!), mark the morning of January 7th on your calendar, as this is when the tiny planet reaches its morning peak 15° above the southwestern horizon.

Mercury will continue to sit this high above the horizon for several mornings on either side of the 7th (the 5th-9th), so you can take a few opportunities if the skies aren’t agreeable on this morning specifically.

January 14 – Close Approach of the Moon & Saturn

Moon, Venus & Jupiter - Don't Know Much... via Flickr

I’ve resolved to be a bit more discerning in which astronomical events make the cut on these lists in 2024 (aiming to help you see events you might otherwise miss!), but I still have a soft spot for the close approaches that the Moon makes with other planets in our solar system – especially if they’re less than 2° apart!

On the night of January 14th, the Moon and Saturn will appear as close as 1°56′ apart; the Moon will be just three days old and thus not provide too much interference. This is a fantastic excuse to pull out your telescope or binoculars and admire Saturn, its iconic rings, and the Moon’s terminator line.

January 16 – Conjunction of Venus & Ceres

Night Sky - Mars, Saturn, Ceres - Neal Simpson via Flickr
Photo credit: Neal Simpson via Flickr

As I’ve ticked off “see Mercury” on my personal astronomical bucket list, I’m now looking to try and spot for even smaller objects in our solar system. First chance? Using Venus to potentially see Ceres, the large main asteroid belt dwarf planet.

In the pre-dawn hours of January 16th, Venus will be a guide to Ceres if the conditions are right (and you live at the correct longitude): at their closest, Venus will be 9’22” south of Ceres. You’ll definitely need equipment to spot tiny Ceres (though obviously Venus is easy to see with the unaided eye) and a star-finder app will help too if you’re not sure exactly what you’re looking for (like me!).

January 19 – Peak of the γ-Ursae Minorid Meteor Shower

Delta Aquarid Meteor Shower - Mike Lewinski via Flickr
Photo credit: Mike Lewinski via Flickr

If the full moon or cloudy skies cause an issue with spotting the Quadrantids earlier in the month, you might try to spot the less impressive γ-Ursae Minorids. The Gamma Ursae Minorids appear to radiate from the constellation Ursa Minor, near the bright north star of Polaris.

This meteor shower runs from January 15-25 in 2024, and is expected to peak on the night of January 19th. On this night you might spot as many as 3 meteors per hour. Obviously, this isn’t very many; add on the brightly illuminated waxing gibbous moon and you might only want to head out if you live somewhere especially dark and/or clear.

January 31 – M44 is Well-Placed

Night Sky in May - Beehive Cluster M44 - Andrea Tosatto via Flickr
Photo credit: Andrea Tosatto via Flickr

Last but certainly not least, here’s one more night sky object worth spotting in January. M44, also known as the Beehive Cluster, will reach its peak in the night sky around midnight local time for all viewers (regardless of time zone), and is sitting in the dim constellation of Cancer. Grab your stargazing equipment to unlock the beauty of this open star cluster.

And that wraps up the list; it’s substantially shorter than my list of January night sky events but a good start to the year – especially if you’ve always wanted to see Mercury or love looking for comets. Do you have questions about these January night sky events? Let us know in the comments!

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Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She grew up in Alaska, has lived across the U.S., and traveled around the world to enjoy the night sky from many different perspectives. Join her on this journey to explore space right here on earth.