This month, look out for the two supermoons. (Details given are for London and may vary for other parts of the UK).
Top three things to see this month
2nd / 31st Jan – Spot the two supermoons at the start and end of the month.
3rd / 4th Jan – Look for meteors at the peak of the Quadrantids meteor shower.
7th Jan – Catch Jupiter in conjunction with Mars.
Look Up! Podcast
As well as taking you through what to see in the night sky each month, Royal Observatory Greenwich astronomers pick their favourite astro news story. For January, they’re chatting about clay minerals on Mars and a new model that explains its formation from a hot steamy primordial Mars along with the most distant supermassive black hole discovered to date.
It’s the largest supermoon of 2018. A supermoon occurs when the Moon reaches its full moon phase whilst being at the closest point to the Earth in its orbit. It reaches full moon in the early hours of the 2nd so the best time to catch the supermoon is on the evening of the 1st. Look to the east from around sunset to see the Moon rise above the horizon or wait until the pre-dawn hours of the 2nd when the Moon will be setting in the west – you’ll see the Moon in its full glory. Due to its apparent larger size and something known as Moon illusion, it will appear noticeably bigger.
After the Geminid meteor shower last month, we’re treated to another strong meteor display in the New Year. The Quadrantids is one of the best annular meteors showers and also the most consistent – visible between the 1stand 10th of January but peaking on the night of the 3rd and early morning of the 4th. Unfortunately the Moon is in its waning gibbous phase so there will be considerable interference from moonlight meaning the peak rate of 120 meteors per hour is much higher than you will actually see. Nevertheless, the meteors can be bright; some with bluish and yellowy-white colours – look north-east after midnight.
Following the Venus-Jupiter conjunction last November, on 7th January you may be able to spot Jupiter in conjunction with Mars. A conjunction is the apparent meeting of astronomical objects in the sky - look to the south-east before sunrise to spot the pair less than 0.5 degree apart. Both are visible with just your eyes; Mars appearing a reddish colour and Jupiter sitting just above – noticeably brighter. If you have a telescope to hand, you may be able to see details like the polar ice caps and dark regions on Mars’ surface and perhaps even the four closest Moons around Jupiter – Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.
Keeping an eye over Jupiter and Mars in the coming nights, you’ll find the waning crescent moon passing by them in the pre-dawn sky. From the 10th you’ll see the Moon move past Jupiter, then Mars and by the 13th it will have passed by the bright red star Antares in the constellation of Scorpius in the south-east. Antares translates as ‘anti-Mars’ or ‘rival of Mars’ as they can appear in the same part of the sky and since both have a reddish hue they can often get confused with one and other.
The Moon reaches first quarter – an ideal time to look for craters on the Moon. At this time, the boundary between the light and dark sides on the Moon (known as the terminator) is clearly visible and it’s here that the shadows from the crater walls make them easier to spot. Look to the west before midnight, it will be in the constellation of Cetus close to the bright star Menkar. This is a star that has evolved from the main sequence – it’s no longer fusing hydrogen in its core. Having used up the helium it will burn the carbon in its core after which it will shed its outer layers becoming a planetary nebula just like our Sun will do in about 4.5 billion years.
In the early hours just after midnight, you’ll find the waxing gibbous moon appearing beside the red star Aldebaran in the west with the Pleiades close by too. The Pleiades is an open cluster of stars and with your eyes you can spot 7 bright points of light hence they’re often known as the seven sisters.
It’s the second supermoon of the month occurring as the Moon reaches its full moon phase again. This full Moon is also a blue moon – it’s what astronomers call the second full moon occurring in the same month. Despite its name it doesn’t appear blue but it’s a rare occurrence which gives rise to the expression ‘once in a blue moon’.
The Moon's phases this month
- 2 Jan - full moon (2:24am)
- 8 Jan – last quarter moon (10:25pm)
- 17 Jan – new moon (2:17am)
- 24 Jan – first quarter moon (10:20pm)
- 31 Jan - full moon (1:27pm)
See the other amazing photographs from this year's Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year competition in our free exhibition like the Moon and the Queensferry Crossing by Grant Ritchie which was a shortlisted image for our Moon category in 2016
- When looking at faint objects such as stars, nebulae, the Milky Way and other galaxies it is important to allow your eyes to adapt to the dark – so that you achieve night vision.
- Allow 15 minutes for your eyes to become sensitive in the dark and remember not to look at your mobile phone or any other bright device when stargazing.
- If you are using a star app on your phone switch on the red night vision mode.
- Need a stargazing telescope or decent binoculars? Check out our range of high-quality observing equipment recommended by Royal Observatory astronomers:
Share your astronomy pictures
Congratulations to Mikkel Beiter for his breath-taking image of the aurorae. He shared this image on our Astrophotography Facebook page and we chose it for January's banner image.
If you want to be in with a chance to showcase your astrophotography skills on the banner for next month's night sky blog, share your photos via our Royal Observatory Astrophotography Facebook group
You can also connect with us on Twitter @ROGAstronomers
Insight Astronomy Photographer of the Year
Come and see this year’s amazing entries and winner to the world’s biggest astrophotography competition in our free exhibition at the Royal Observatory.
See more of the night sky
Come on an amazing tour of this month’s night sky in our Sky Tonight live planetarium show.
Central image: © Mikkel Beiter www.beiter.dk