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Kiss the Sky Tonight -- Month of January 2021

Posted by Guy Pirro   01/03/2021 04:01PM

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).

January 4-5

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.

January 6-7

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.




January 8-9

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.

January 10

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.

January 11

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.

January 12-13

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.




January 14-19

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).

January 20-21

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.

January 23-24

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).

January 26-27

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.

January 28

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."


Constellation: Auriga

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



Constellation: Gemini

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


Constellation: Lepus

IC 418                          Planetary Nebula        P90 Spirograph Nebula

NGC 1904                    Globular Cluster          M79

NGC 1964                    Galaxy                         Herschel 400 H21-4


Constellation: Monoceros

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


Constellation: Orion

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


Constellation: Taurus

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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