Quadrantid Meteor Shower, Mars Rises & More January 2020 Skywatching Tips From NASA

What are the skywatching highlights of January 2020? The peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower, Mars rises with its “rival” — the red giant star Antares — and the Moon and Venus pair up.

The early morning of January 4th brings the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. This annual shower can be one of the better ones of the year, although it has a much shorter peak than most other meteor showers — just a few hours versus a day or two.

The visibility of meteor showers from year to year has a lot to do with whether there’s a bright Moon in the sky at the time or not. This year, the Moon will set soon after midnight local time, meaning viewing conditions should be good, provided your local skies are not obscured by winter weather.

More about the Quadrantid meteors

Unlike most meteor showers which originate from comets, the Quadrantids originate from an asteroid. Their parent body, asteroid 2003 EH1, orbits the Sun every five and a half years. Astronomers think it’s possible that 2003 EH might be a “dead comet” or a new kind of object being discussed by scientists called a “rock comet.”

More about Antares

Antares is a red giant star located in the constellation Scorpius which has a distinctly reddish color. Since it’s the brightest star in Scorpius, it’s also known as Alpha Scorpii. Located about 500 light-years away, Antares is enormous. Its surface shines with a more feeble glow compared to our Sun, but because it’s so much bigger, it’s a much brighter star overall. It’s also a well-studied star, and thus its well-known brightness is sometimes used by researchers in studying other phenomena in space, such as the rings of Saturn. NASA’s Cassini spacecraft watched Antares flicker behind Saturn’s rings on multiple occasions, which helped researchers understand the structure of the icy rings.

This Month’s Moon Phases

Here are the phases of the Moon for January.

January 2020 Moon Phases

Sky Charts

The sky charts presented here show a field of view of 90 degrees — that is, an area on the sky that goes from the horizon up to the top of the sky (also called the zenith).

Sky Chart: January 4, 2020

Sky Chart: January 4, 2020. Credit: NASA

Sky Chart: January 20, 2020

Sky Chart: January 20, 2020. Credit: NASA

Sky Chart: January 28, 2020

Sky Chart: January 28, 2020. Credit: NASA

Daily Guide

January 1, 2020

On Wednesday evening at 8:31 PM EST, the Moon will be at apogee, its farthest from the Earth for this orbit.

January 2

On Thursday morning,at around 9 AM EST (2020-Jan-02 16:08 UTC with 1 hour 16 minutes uncertainty), Near Earth Object (2019 AE3), between 10 and 22 meters (32 to 71 feet) in size, will pass the Earth at between 4.0 and 5.7 lunar distances (nominally 4.8), traveling at 8.24 kilometers per second (18,400 miles per hour).

The Moon will appear half-full as it reaches its first quarter at 11:45 PM EST (shortly before it sets in the west for the Washington, DC area).

January 4

The early morning of Jan. 4th brings the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. This annual shower can be one of the better ones of the year, although it has a much shorter peak than most other meteor showers — just a few hours versus a day or two.

January 5

Early Thursday morning, the Earth will be at perihelion, the closest we get to the Sun in our orbit. Between perihelion and 6 months later at aphelion there is about a 6.7% difference in the intensity of the sunlight reaching the Earth, 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 the 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 (in Sun-centered coordinates) for your location.

For the Washington, DC area (and similar latitudes, at least), sunrise will be the latest of winter (and would be the latest sunrise of the year if not for Daylight Savings Time). If it seems hard waking up in the morning around this time, this might be why (or at least it makes a good excuse).

January 7 to 8

On Tuesday evening into Wednesday morning, the bright star appearing near the waxing gibbous Moon will be Aldebaran. For the Washington, DC area, as evening twilight ends (at 6:05 PM EST), Aldebaran will appear to the right of the Moon. The Moon will reach its highest in the sky at 9:48 PM with Aldebaran to the lower right. Aldebaran will appear below the Moon when Aldebaran sets in the west-northwest on Wednesday morning at 4:33 AM.

January 10

On Friday, the planet Mercury will be passing on the far side of the Sun as seen from the Earth, called superior conjunction. Because Mercury orbits inside of the orbit of Earth, it will be shifting from the morning sky to the evening sky and will begin emerging from the glow of dusk on the western horizon in late January 2020.

The full Moon after next will be Friday afternoon, January 10, 2020, at 2:21 PM EST. Although not visible from most of the Americas, the Moon will be in the partial shadow of the Earth. For the side of the Earth that will be able to see the Moon, the slight dimming of the Moon should be barely noticeable. The bright star near the Moon will be Pollux.

January 28

Closing out the month, the crescent Moon and Venus once again make for a gorgeous sight at the end of January, on the same day of the month as they did back in December. On January 28th, you’ll find the pair hovering in the southwest in the hour or so after sunset that evening, so be sure to go out and take a look.

Video Transcript:

What’s Up for January? Morning meteors, Mars meets its “rival,” and the Moon comes around for another visit with Venus.

The early morning of January 4th brings the peak of the Quadrantid meteor shower. This annual shower can be one of the better ones of the year, although it has a much shorter peak than most other meteor showers – just a few hours versus a day or two.

The visibility of meteor showers from year to year has a lot to do with whether there’s a bright Moon in the sky at the time or not. This year, the Moon will set soon after midnight local time, meaning viewing conditions should be good, provided your local skies are not obscured by winter weather.

Face toward the northeast between midnight and dawn to see as many as two dozen meteors per hour under dark skies. (And the farther away you get from city lights, the darker it’ll be.) So bundle up, and be sure to give your eyes a little time to adapt to the dark, including a break from your mobile device, in order to see the maximum number of meteors.

Mars rises before dawn during January with its “rival,” the red giant star Antares. The name of this star translates as “rival to Mars” in ancient Greek, and the star rivals the Red Planet’s appearance to the unaided eye, both in color and brightness.

In reality, Antares is way, way bigger than Mars. In fact, it’s much bigger than the orbit of Mars. It’s about 10,000 times brighter than our Sun, but it’s also 16 million times farther away from us than Mars is, so, like all stars, even though it’s really bright, it appears as just a tiny, flickering point of light in the night sky.

You can view the pair low in the southeast, about an hour before sunrise each morning. Near the beginning of January, Mars appears above Antares. As the days progress, the planet moves lower and to the east of Antares. They’re joined by a slim lunar crescent on January 20th for what should be a very pretty grouping.

And as we start 2020, NASA’s looking forward to the launch of the Mars 2020 rover mission. It’s slated to blast off in July to seek signs of ancient life in a fossilized river delta on the Red Planet.

Closing out the month, the crescent Moon and Venus once again make for a gorgeous sight at the end of January, on the same day of the month as they did back in December. On January 28th, you’ll find the pair hovering in the southwest in the hour or so after sunset that evening, so be sure to go out and take a look.

Here are the phases of the Moon for January.

You can catch up on all of NASA’s current and future missions at nasa.gov. I’m Preston Dyches from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and that’s What’s Up for this month.

Be the first to comment on "Quadrantid Meteor Shower, Mars Rises & More January 2020 Skywatching Tips From NASA"

Leave a comment

Email address is optional. If provided, your email will not be published or shared.