Happy New Year! As 2022 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 2021, 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.
Where necessary, I’ve noted the astronomy events that you need a telescope or binoculars for; I have guides for buying this kind of stargazing equipment for every price point, from $200 to $2000. Be sure to check out my space gear guide for all of my suggestions.
Ready to dive into this month’s night sky events? Let’s do it!
This post was originally written in January 2018, and has been updated annually – most recently in December 2021.
Featured photo credit: Mike Lewinski via Flickr
January 3 – Peak of the Quadrantids Meteor Shower
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 on January 3rd. On that night, 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.
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 4 – Earth at Perihelion
The next astronomical event of 2021 is actually not one you can see – but you’re literally going to experience it whether you know it or not. On January 4th, the earth will reach its closest point to the sun, called “perihelion.”
On this day, we’ll be at the closest point to the sun in our orbit, just 0.98 AU from the sun. (This is compared to aphelion in July when we’ll be 1.02 AU from the sun.) It’s proof that even our orbit is not completely circular; it’s elliptical.
January 5 – Conjunction of the Moon & Jupiter
Unlike in recent months, there’s only one big planetary conjunction to mention this month: the Moon and Jupiter will appear close together in the sky on the evening of January 5th. On this night, the two will appear roughly 4°27′ apart – that’s roughly the distance if you hold up your pointer, middle, and ring fingers together at arms length. Look for the beautiful waxing crescent Moon and bright Jupiter in the constellation Aquarius, in the southwestern sky.
(Saturn’s close approach occurs during the daylight hours, so there’s no point in mentioning it here!)
January 10 – C/2019 L3 (ATLAS) at Perihelion
Now that you know what perihelion means, you can probably guess what this January night sky event is all about: the comet C/2019 L3 (ATLAS) – a very easy-to-say name, mind you – will reach its own perihelion on January 10th. This means it will be at its closest point to the sun as it makes its way through the solar system. (Comet C/2019 L3 (ATLAS) actually does not orbit the sun – this is the one time in its existence that it will pass the sun!)
While you’ll need a telescope to see C/2019 L3 (ATLAS), the entire month of January is actually a great opportunity to spot this comet; it’s high in the southern sky all month but a faint magnitude 9.7.
January 11 – Mercury at its Evening Peak
If you’ve been reading this site for a while, you know that spotting Mercury with my un-aided eye is on my astronomy bucket list; I’ve got another chance – and so do you – on January 11th when the tiny planet reaches its evening peak 13° above the southwestern horizon.
Unlike in the past few cycles of Mercury’s rise and fall in the evenings and mornings, Saturn will be very close to Mercury at this particular evening peak. They will be just a few degrees apart, making Saturn a perfect guide ‘star’ to finding Mercury. Here’s hoping I get clear skies on this day to get out and see bright, tiny Mercury!
January 13 – Asteroid 7 Iris at Opposition
In case you aren’t familiar with the term, “opposition” describes the arrangement of celestial objects where the sun is on one side of Earth and the object is directly opposite – like a sun-earth-object sandwich in space. Opposition is a good opportunity for astronomers to study different objects in the solar system, as they are brightly lit by the sun behind us (“us” being planet earth, naturally).
In the case of this particular astronomical event, it’s asteroid 7 Iris that will be at opposition – opposite from the sun – on the night of January 13th. 7 Iris was (as the name suggests) the seventh object ever discovered in the main asteroid belt, and is the fourth-brightest object in that part of the solar system.
You’ll need a telescope to see distant 7 Iris, but if you use an app and wait until around midnight local time for optimal darkness, the asteroid will be visible in the constellation Gemini.
January 18 – 104P/Kowal reaches its Brightest
As I said in the introduction, January is a month of cometary encounters – though nothing quite like that movie Don’t Look Up, thank goodness!
On January 18th, comet 104P/Kowal will be at its brightest and located just 0.65 AU from earth. Don’t worry though, that’s a huge distance from the perspective of planetary encounters.
You’ll need a telescope to spot comet 104P/Kowal in the constellation Cetus, the swan.
January 19 – Peak of the γ-Ursae Minorid Meteor Shower
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 2022, 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, and the moon will be unfortunately very brightly illuminated after passing its full phase a few days before. While I wanted to include it in case you have clear skies, this isn’t necessarily one to lose any sleep over.
January 20 – 19P/Borrelly reaches its Brightest
One more comet for good measure! Comet 19P/Borrelly will be roughly 1.23 AU from earth when it reaches its brightest on January 20th, and will actually be most visible in the hour after sunset rather than in in the middle of the night.
To spot comet 19P/Borrelly, you’ll need a telescope, and to look in the constellation Cetus – just as with comet 104P/Kowal.
And that wraps up the list; it’s substantially shorter than my list of December’s 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!