Night Sky in January - Quadrantids - Mike Lewinski via Flickr

8 Must-See Events in the January Night Sky (2020)

In Night Sky Guide by Valerie Stimac4 Comments

Happy New Year! As 2020 kicks off, it’s a great time to make a resolution: to go stargazing and appreciate the night sky more! January is nowhere near as ‘busy’ with night sky events as December was.

However, there are still a few good opportunities to get out and see different objects in our solar system. In particular, the January night sky offers the chance to see several neighboring (and more distant) planets, as well as some meteors and even an asteroid.

If you need a telescope to help enjoy this month’s night sky events, we have a guide to the best stargazing telescopes. From the Meade Polaris 130 (under $200) to the Orion Atlas 8 EQ-G GoTo ($2000), you can find one for your astronomy interest and budget.

Here’s what you can see in the January night sky this year. If you want to learn more about what’s in the night sky in 2020, check out our brand new eBook, The Night Sky in 2020: When to Go Stargazing All Year Long.

January 4 – Peak of the Quadrantids Meteor Shower

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

As if three days of stargazing wasn’t exciting enough – there’s a meteor shower to look for, peaking on January 4th. The Quadrantids, the first meteor shower of the year, is expected to peak on January 4th. 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 10 – Penumbral Lunar Eclipse Across Europe, Africa & Asia

Penumbral Lunar Eclipse

On the night of January 10th, major parts of the planet will have the opportunity to see a penumbral lunar eclipse. In this eclipse, the diffuse part of the earth’s shadow, the penumbra, will cover part of the moon for over four hours. Those in Europe, Asia, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, and parts of Africa and Australia will be able to see this dimming of the moon.

Penumbral lunar eclipses are not as impressive as other lunar eclipse types; the moon will not turn red as it does when in the earth’s more dense ‘umbra’ shadow. However, those with a keen eye will be able to spot the moon’s dimness.

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 2020, 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, but the sky will be dark as the moon is in its waning crescent phase; it’ll be a nice night for stargazing anyway even if the meteors aren’t as frequent as other night of the year.

January 20 – Close Approach of the Moon & Mars

Night Sky in January - Mars & Moon - Markus Riedl via Flickr
Photo credit: Markus Riedl via Flickr

Mars is always easy to spot in the night sky. But, there’s nothing quite like seeing it make a close visual approach with another celestial body. In the pre-dawn morning of of January 20th, you can see Mars move within 2°11′ of a sliver of waning crescent moon. They’ll appear together around 4:00am local time, before the sun rises on this mid-winter morning.

These two will appear too far apart to fit within the single view of a telescope or binoculars. However, you’ll be able to spot both easily and jump between them easily to admire them both.

January 21 – Asteroid Astraea at Opposition

Night Sky - Asteroid - ESO
Photo credit: NASA, ESA, K. Meech and J. Kleyna (University of Hawaii), O. Hainaut (ESO)

Throughout 2020, there are several nights where you can see asteroids at opposition. What this means is that the asteroid will be opposite from the sun with the earth in the middle; it also means the asteroid will appear at its brightest of the year.

On the night of January 21st, the first asteroid of the year to look for is 5 Astraea, also just called Astraea. Astraea was discovered in 1845 by an amateur German astronomer. It is one of the largest asteroids in the main asteroid belt. Astraea is likely made of nickel-iron, making it highly reflective and easy to spot. On the night of the 21st, look for Astraea in the constellation Cancer.

January 22 – Close Approach of the Moon & Jupiter

Night Sky in January - Moon, Venus & Jupiter - Don't Know Much... via Flickr
Photo credit: Don’t Know Much… via Flickr

As the moon approaches its new phase on the 24th, there are a few good opportunities to try and spot other solar system objects in close visual approach with the moon. On January 22nd, Jupiter and the moon will make just such a close approach, passing within 0°21′ of each other from our perspective. At this close proximity, you’ll be able to see both within the view of a telescope or binoculars – but they’ll also be easy to spot and admire with your un-aided eyes.

January 27 – Close Approach of Venus & Neptune

Night Sky Events - Neptune

Did you know that technically Neptune is the only planet in our solar system we can’t see without magnification? (Some eagle-eyed astronomers have been able to spot distant Uranus on occasion!) Therefore, it’s especially helpful to use other planets to ‘hop’ to Neptune on certain nights throughout the year.

One night that is ideal for this is on January 27th, when Venus and Neptune will make a close visual approach. As the two will pass within 0°04′ of each other, it will be easy to use binoculars or a telescope to try and see blue Neptune in the far reaches of our solar system on this night.

January 28 – Close Approach of the Moon & Venus

Night Sky in January - Venus - Nigel Howe via Flickr
Photo credit: Nigel Howe via Flickr

Lovely Venus is always so bright, and when it appears near the moon, it’s a great night to go out and look up. As January winds to a close, the moon and Venus will have a close approach.

On January 28th, the moon and Venus will appear within 3°49′ of each other in the southern sky just after sundown. This is too far apart to fit within a single telescope view, but a great pair of astronomical binoculars will give you a close up view. As the moon will be a waxing crescent on this night, you won’t have too much light from the moon obstructing your view.

Do you have questions about these January night sky events? Let us know in the comments!

Featured photo credit: Mike Lewinski via Flickr

About the Author
Valerie Stimac

Valerie Stimac

Valerie is the founder and editor of Space Tourism Guide. She decided to start the site after realizing how many friends and family had never seen the Milky Way, and that space tourism was going to unlock the next great travel destination: space!

Comments

  1. Avatar

    Thank you! We live in a very often cloudy and/or rainy area. I will look for what I can when we get clear skies here in the Pacific Northwest.

  2. Avatar

    Have no idea what I have witnessed seeing this morning 31st Jan 2020 and yesterday 30 Jan 2020 over the north east – north early dawn sky Newcastle NSW Australia. Yesterday at 5:22am Aust Eastern Standard Time (AEST) I saw a very blockish/rigid elongated strip with box-ish patterning/shadowing, carving from easterly direction to northerly, under Venus , way out in night sky/space. It was substantially large and long and rectangular from the distance to earth before it faded out. Still dark night sky/very early morning.
    Today, (as I walked my dog again – same routine each morning), at 5:26am AEST I saw VERY close, a line, straight as an arrow!!! of lights/stars, really, really long trail of a string of lights. Clustered/close proximity towards the front of the line but the lights/stars (whatever it actually was) had bigger, more random gaps towards the end of the string of lights. VERY SLOW moving. VERY STRAIGHT line of lights. It was something so bizarre. Same trajectory as the previous morning, but 5 mins later and very close this time.
    Anyone know what I have witnessed??? Am trying to google to find out what it could have been. AM 45 this year, never ever seen something like this before.
    Thanks in advance.
    Ta Bernadette

Leave a Comment