Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of January 2021
Observers in several countries reported the appearance of a "new star" in 1054 AD -- a supernova in the direction of the constellation Taurus. Since then, much has been learned about the remnants of that supernova, the Crab Nebula (M1, NGC 1952). Today, astronomers know that the Crab Nebula is powered by a quickly spinning, highly magnetized neutron star called a pulsar, which was formed when a massive star ran out of its nuclear fuel and collapsed. The combination of rapid rotation and a strong magnetic field in the Crab Nebula generates an intense electromagnetic field that creates jets of matter and anti-matter moving away from both the north and south poles of the pulsar, and an intense wind flowing out in the equatorial direction. This image of the Crab Nebula is a composite with X-rays from Chandra (blue and white), NASA's Hubble Space Telescope (purple), and NASA's Spitzer Space Telescope (pink). The extent of the X-ray image is smaller than the others because extremely energetic electrons emitting X-rays radiate away their energy more quickly than the lower-energy electrons emitting optical and infrared light. [Video and Content Credits: NASA, JPL – Caltech, and the Office of Public Outreach – STScI] [Image Credit: X-ray: NASA/CXC/SAO; Optical: NASA/STScI; Infrared: NASA-JPL-Caltech]
Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of January 2021
Happy New Year and welcome to the night sky report for January 2021 -- Your guide to the constellations, deep sky objects, planets, and celestial events that are observable during the month. The winter sky is filled with brilliant stars. In January, the northern hemisphere features beautiful views of Capella - a pair of giant yellow stars, Aldebaran - a red giant star, two star clusters - the Hyades (Caldwell 41) and the Pleiades (M45), and the Crab Nebula (M1, NGC 1952). Earth reaches the closest point in its elliptical orbit around the Sun, called perihelion on January 2. The Sun won't appear noticeably larger in the sky – only about 3% larger. (Of course, you should never look at the Sun without proper eye protection. Remember, sunglasses are not sufficient for viewing the Sun). The distant, outer planet Uranus is too faint to see with the unaided eye, and it can be tough to locate in the sky without a computer-guided telescope. But on January 20, Uranus will be located right between the Moon and Mars. Look for Mercury in the last two weeks of January. You'll need a clear view toward the west, as Mercury will appear just a few degrees above the horizon.
Orion the hunter is the centerpiece constellation in January, striding into the night sky with a belt of three stars. Above Orion lies a five-sided figure that forms Auriga, the charioteer, who was associated with goats. Its brightest star is Capella, which is actually a pair of giant yellow stars.
Auriga balances on a horn of Taurus the bull. In Greek mythology, Taurus was seen as the god Zeus in disguise. His eye is orange Aldebaran, a red giant star nearing the end of its life. A number of the stars that form the bull’s V-shaped head are part of a star cluster called the Hyades.
The bull’s shoulder is marked by the distinctive Pleiades star cluster, also called the Seven Sisters. The cluster contains more than 250 stars, but only six or seven are visible to the naked eye. The view of the Pleiades from the Palomar Observatory shows the brightest stars surrounded by a dusty cloud. The dust reflects the blue light of these hot stars.
At the tip of Taurus’s horn lies the Crab Nebula. The Crab is the remains of a star that exploded as a supernova, observed by Chinese, Japanese, and Arab astronomers in 1054. Telescopes on the ground and in space have observed different forms of light given off by the Crab Nebula. Different wavelengths of visible and invisible light reveal details of the supernova remnant. Combining information from different wavelengths helps us better understand the expanding cloud of glowing gas and the spinning neutron star that remains at its core.
January 2-3, 2021
On Saturday morning, Jan. 2, 2021, the Earth will be at perihelion, the closest the Earth gets to the Sun in our orbit. Between perihelion and six months later when the Earth is at its farthest from the Sun (aphelion) there is about a 6.7% difference in the intensity of the sunlight reaching the Earth. This is one of the reasons the seasons in the southern hemisphere are more extreme than in the northern hemisphere. Perihelion is also when the Earth is moving at its fastest in its orbit around the Sun, so if you run east at local midnight, you will be moving about as fast as you can (at least in Sun-centered coordinates) for your location.
On Saturday night into Sunday morning, Jan. 2 to 3, 2021, the bright star Regulus will appear near the waning gibbous Moon. Regulus will rise in the east-northeast to the right of the Moon (at 8:44 p.m. EST). The Moon will reach its high point at 3:47 a.m. Sunday, and morning twilight will begin around 6:24 a.m. EST.
The annual Quadrantid meteor shower is expected to peak in the early morning hours Sunday. This year moonlight will interfere with viewing these meteors.
Sunday at around 5 a.m. EST (2021-Jan-03 10:02 UTC with 19 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2020 YA1) will pass the Earth at between 4.0 and 4.1 lunar distances, traveling at 8,260 miles per hour (3.69 kilometers per second).
For latitudes similar to the Washington, D.C. area, ignoring daylight savings time, Monday and Tuesday, Jan. 4 and 5, 2021, are tied for the latest sunrises of the year (with sunrises at 7:26:56 a.m. EST).
Monday evening, Jan. 4, 2021, will be the first evening the planet Mercury will be above the horizon about 30 minutes after sunset, an approximation of when Mercury may begin to be visible against the glow of dusk in the west-southwest after sunset.
Wednesday morning, Jan. 6, 2021, the waning Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its last quarter at 4:37 a.m. EST.
Thursday morning, Jan. 7, 2021, the bright star Spica will appear to the left of the waning crescent Moon. The Moon will rise after Spica in the east at 1:15 a.m. EST, with Spica to the right, and the pair will appear to separate as the morning progresses, with morning twilight starting at 6:24 a.m.
Thursday evening will be the last evening the planet Saturn will be above the horizon as evening twilight ends.
From Friday evening to Monday evening, the planet Mercury will appear to pass first by Saturn and then by Jupiter as it shifts away from the horizon, visible each evening low in the west-southwest and setting before evening twilight ends.
Saturday morning at 10:39 a.m. EST, the Moon will be at perigee, its closest to the Earth for this orbit.
On Sunday morning, the bright star Antares will appear about 7 degrees to the right of the thin, waning crescent Moon. The Moon will rise after Antares in the east-southeast (at 4:53 a.m. EST) and morning twilight will begin about 1.5 hours later.
Sunday evening will be the last evening the planet Jupiter will be above the horizon as evening twilight ends.
Monday morning, Jan. 11, 2021, if you have a very clear view of the horizon in the east-southeast, you might be able to see the bright planet Venus near the thin, waning crescent Moon. Venus will rise after the Moon (at 6:16 a.m. EST). Morning twilight begins 8 minutes later (at 6:24 a.m. EST), with the Moon appearing only about 2 degrees above the horizon and Venus about 5 degrees to the lower left. They will shift higher in the sky but also become more difficult to see as the sky brightens with the dawn.
At midnight Tuesday night into Wednesday morning, Jan. 12 to 13, 2021, will be the new Moon, when the Moon passes between the Earth and the Sun and is not visible from the Earth.
Wednesday morning will be the last morning that the bright planet Venus will be above the horizon at the time morning twilight begins. Venus should still be visible in the glow of dawn after it rises in the east-southeast until about 30 minutes before sunrise.
The day of – or the day after – the new Moon marks the start of the new month for most lunisolar calendars. The twelfth month of the Chinese calendar starts on Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2021 (at midnight in China's time zone, which is 13 hours ahead of EST). Sundown on Wednesday also marks the start of Shevat in the Hebrew calendar. In the Islamic calendar, the months traditionally start with the first sighting of the waxing crescent Moon. Many Muslim communities now follow the Umm al-Qura Calendar of Saudi Arabia, which uses astronomical calculations to start months in a more predictable way. Using this calendar the sixth month of the year, Jumada al-Thani, also known as Jumada al-Akhirah or Jumada al-Akhir, will begin at sunset on Wednesday.
Wednesday evening, until about half an hour after sunset, you might be able to see the thin waxing crescent Moon, Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury, low in the west-southwest. The Moon may be very difficult to see, as it will be setting 30 minutes after sunset (at 5:38 p.m. EST), but if you can see it before it sets in the west-southwest (perhaps with binoculars), you might be able to also spot Saturn, Jupiter, and Mercury in an arc above the Moon. If you use binoculars, be sure to wait until you are sure the Sun has set to protect your eyes. Mercury will be the highest in the sky, and Wednesday evening will be the first evening that Mercury will be above the horizon at the time evening twilight ends.
By Thursday evening, Jan. 14, 2021, the thin, waxing crescent Moon will have shifted to form a rough line with Mercury, Jupiter, and Saturn just above the horizon in the west-southwest. For the Washington D.C. area, at 5:40 p.m. EST (30 minutes after sunset), the Moon will be to the upper left about 10 degrees above the horizon, then Mercury to the lower right at 6 degrees above the horizon, Jupiter at 3 degrees, and Saturn at 1 degree above the horizon. Saturn will set first (at 5:48 p.m. EST), Jupiter next (at 6:02 p.m.), evening twilight will end (at 6:12 p.m.), Mercury will set (at 6:21 p.m.), and the Moon will set last (at 6:47 p.m.).
Sometime in mid-January (2021-Jan-16 10:49 UTC with 7 days, 5 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2013 AS76), between 182 to 407 feet (56 and 124 meters) across, will pass the Earth at between 4.7 and 183.5 lunar distances (nominally 74.0), traveling at 27,980 miles per hour (12.51 kilometers per second).
On Wednesday afternoon, Jan. 20, 2021, the Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its first quarter at 4:02 p.m. EST.
Wednesday evening into early Thursday morning, Jan. 20 to 21, 2021, the bright planet Mars will appear above the half-full Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 6:17 p.m. EST), Mars will appear about 8 degrees to the upper right of the Moon. The pair will appear to shift gradually closer together until the Moon sets in the west-northwest on Thursday morning at 12:54 a.m.
Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021, at 8:11 a.m. EST, the Moon will be at apogee, its farthest from the Earth for this orbit.
By Thursday evening, the Moon will appear to have shifted to about 9 degrees to the other side of the planet Mars, and the pair will continue to separate as the evening progresses.
Saturday evening, Jan. 23, 2021, will be when the planet Mercury reaches its greatest angular separation from the Sun as seen from the Earth for this apparition (called greatest eastern elongation), appearing half-lit through a large enough telescope. Because the angle of the line between the Sun and Mercury and the horizon changes over time, when Mercury and the Sun appear farthest apart as seen from the Earth is not the same as when Mercury appears highest above the horizon in the west-southwest as evening twilight ends. This occurs the next evening.
Saturday at 9:26 p.m. EST, the planet Saturn will be passing on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth, called a conjunction. Saturn will begin emerging from the glow of the dawn on the eastern horizon around Feb. 7, 2021 (depending upon viewing conditions).
Saturday evening into Sunday morning, Jan. 23 to 24, 2021, the bright star Aldebaran will appear below the waxing gibbous Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 6:21 p.m. EST) Aldebaran will appear about 5 degrees below the Moon. The Moon will reach its high point for the night at 8:23 p.m., and Aldebaran will set first in the west-northwest on Sunday morning at 3:28 a.m.
Sunday evening will be when the planet Mercury will appear at its highest above the horizon (5 degrees) at the time evening twilight ends (at 6:22 p.m. EST).
Sometime in the second half of January to early February 2021 (2021-Jan-25 10:28 UTC with 7 days, 22 hours, 6 minutes uncertainty), Near-Earth Object (2018 BA3), between 48 to 107 feet (15 and 33 meters) across, will pass the Earth at between 0.7 and 9.2 lunar distances (nominally 1.5), traveling at 18,080 miles per hour (8.08 kilometers per second).
On Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning, Jan. 26 to 27, 2021, the bright star Pollux will appear near the waxing gibbous Moon. As evening twilight ends (at 6:24 p.m. EST), Pollux will appear about 9 degrees to the lower left of the Moon. The Moon will reach its high point for the night at 10:59 p.m. with Pollux about 8 degrees to the upper left. By the time morning twilight begins Wednesday morning at 6:18 a.m., Pollux will appear about 6 degrees above the Moon, which will only be about 23 minutes from setting in the west-northwest.
The next full Moon will be on Thursday afternoon, Jan. 28, 2021, appearing opposite the Sun at 2:16 p.m. EST.
The night sky is always a celestial showcase. Explore its wonders from your own backyard.
The following Deep Sky Objects are found in constellations that peak during the month. Some can be viewed with a small telescope, but the majority will require a moderate to large telescope. The following is adapted from my personal viewing list: "The Guy Pirro 777 Best and Brightest Deep Sky Objects."
IC 405 Diffuse Nebula C31 Flaming Star Nebula
IC 2149 Planetary Nebula P126
NGC 1664 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H59-8
NGC 1778 Open Cluster P68
NGC 1857 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H33-7
NGC 1883 Open Cluster P211
NGC 1893 Open Cluster P69
NGC 1907 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H39-7
NGC 1912 Open Cluster M38
NGC 1931 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H261-1
NGC 1960 Open Cluster M36
NGC 2099 Open Cluster M37
NGC 2126 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H68-8
NGC 2192 Open Cluster P212
NGC 2281 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H71-8
Constellation: Canis Major
IC 468 Diffuse Nebula P132
IC 2165 Planetary Nebula P133
NGC 2204 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H13-7
NGC 2207 Galaxy P216
- IC 2163 Galaxy - Interacting with P216
NGC 2217 Galaxy P72
NGC 2243 Open Cluster P134
NGC 2287 Open Cluster M41
NGC 2345 Open Cluster P73
NGC 2354 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H16-7
NGC 2359 Diffuse Nebula P20 Thor’s Helmet
NGC 2360 Open Cluster C58, Herschel 400 H12-7
NGC 2362 Open Cluster C64, Herschel 400 H17-7 Tau Canis Major Cluster
NGC 2367 Open Cluster P74
NGC 2374 Open Cluster P75
NGC 2383 Open Cluster P135
NGC 2384 Open Cluster P76
Constellation: Canis Minor
IC 2157 Open Cluster P156
NGC 2129 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H26-8
NGC 2158 Globular Cluster Herschel 400 H17-6
NGC 2168 Open Cluster M35
NGC 2266 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H21-6
NGC 2304 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H2-6
NGC 2331 Open Cluster P157
NGC 2355 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H6-6
NGC 2371 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H316-2 (South) Paired with H317-2
NGC 2372 Planetary Nebula Herschel 400 H317-2 (North) Paired with H316-2
NGC 2392 Planetary Nebula C39, Herschel 400 H45-4 Eskimo Nebula
NGC 2395 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H11-8
NGC 2420 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H1-6
IC 418 Planetary Nebula P90 Spirograph Nebula
NGC 1904 Globular Cluster M79
NGC 1964 Galaxy Herschel 400 H21-4
NGC 2185 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H20-4
NGC 2215 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H20-7
NGC 2232 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H25-8
NGC 2236 Open Cluster P163
NGC 2237 Diffuse Nebula C49 - Rosette Nebula
- NGC 2238 Diffuse Nebula - Part of C49
- NGC 2246 Diffuse Nebula - Part of C49
NGC 2244 Open Cluster C50, Herschel 400 H2-7
NGC 2250 Open Cluster P164
NGC 2251 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H3-8
NGC 2252 Open Cluster P91
NGC 2254 Open Cluster P165
NGC 2262 Open Cluster P231
NGC 2259 Open Cluster P232
NGC 2261 Diffuse Nebula C46 Hubble’s Variable Nebula
NGC 2264 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H27-5, H5-8 Christmas Tree Cluster
NGC 2269 Open Cluster P166
NGC 2286 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H31-8
NGC 2299 Open Cluster P167
NGC 2301 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H27-6
NGC 2309 Open Cluster P233
NGC 2311 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H60-8
NGC 2323 Open Cluster M50
NGC 2324 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H38-7
NGC 2335 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H32-8
NGC 2343 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H33-8
NGC 2353 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H34-8
NGC 2368 Open Cluster P235
NGC 2506 Open Cluster C54, Herschel 400 H37-6
IC 434 Diffuse Nebula P92 Horsehead Nebula
NGC 1662 Open Cluster P39
NGC 1788 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H32-5
NGC 1976 Open Cluster M42 Great Orion Nebular Cluster
NGC 1977 Open Cluster P40 Running Man Nebular Cluster
- NGC 1973 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P40
- NGC 1975 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P40
NGC 1980 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H31-5
NGC 1981 Open Cluster P41
NGC 1982 Diffuse Nebula M43 DeMairan Nebula
NGC 1999 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H33-4
NGC 2022 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H34-4
NGC 2023 Diffuse Nebula P93
NGC 2024 Diffuse Nebula Herschel 400 H28-5 Flame Nebula
NGC 2039 Open Cluster P94
NGC 2068 Diffuse Nebula M78
NGC 2071 Diffuse Nebula P42
NGC 2112 Open Cluster P170
NGC 2141 Open Cluster P171
NGC 2143 Open Cluster P172
NGC 2169 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H24-8
NGC 2175 Open Cluster P43
- NGC 2174 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P43
- IC 2159 Diffuse Nebula - Part of P43
NGC 2186 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H25-7
NGC 2194 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H5-6
Messier 45 Open Cluster M45 Pleiades
Caldwell 41 Open Cluster C41 Hyades
IC 1995 Diffuse Nebula P64
NGC 1514 Planetary Nebula P120
NGC 1554 Diffuse Nebula P200 Von Struve’s Lost Nebula
NGC 1555 Diffuse Nebula P201 Hind’s Variable Nebula
NGC 1647 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H8-8
NGC 1750 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H43-8
NGC 1807 Open Cluster P65
NGC 1817 Open Cluster Herschel 400 H4-7
NGC 1952 Diffuse Nebula M1 Crab Nebula
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