Space

Eclipses and the very best sky-watching events in January

Ring in the new year with a sparkling meteor shower, a pair of eclipses, and a planet parade.Friday, January 4, 2019

By Andrew Fazekas
Early January will bring a partial solar eclipse for some lucky sky-watchers in Asia, like this one seen over China in August 2018.

The new year starts off with a bang thanks to 2019’s best celestial fireworks show, followed by eye-catching planetary encounters and an eerie wolf moon eclipse.

So, if your Christmas haul included new binoculars or telescopes, mark your January calendar and get ready to try out your stargazing gear!

New Year meteor shower—January 3-4

Quadrantid meteors appear to radiate from just below the Big Dipper.

In the predawn hours of January 4, the first meteor shower of the year, the Quadrantids, will reach its peak. Rates this morning will range from 60 to 120 shooting stars an hour when seen from a dark location. This year, a waning crescent moon should provide ideal conditions for seeing even faint meteors under clear skies.

The meteors will appear to radiate from the northeast sky, just off the handle of the Big Dipper. This is the site of Quadrans Muralis, a constellation that’s no longer recognized by astronomers but which gave the Quadrantids their name.

Partial solar eclipse—January 5-6

For some lucky sky-watchers, the year’s first new moon will seem to take a bite out of the sun. The partial solar eclipse will begin at sunrise in Asia, starting in China at 7:34 a.m. local time (23:34 UT on January 5) and moving across Japan, Korea, and Russia. Four-and-a-half hours later, it will cross Alaska’s Aleutian Islands at local sunset (3:48 UT on January 6). People in Europe will unfortunately miss the sky show.

Super blood wolf moon eclipse—January 20-21

Late on the 20th, Earth's dark shadow will creep over the full wolf moon, turning the silvery orb blood red during the year’s only total lunar eclipse. By cosmic coincidence, this full moon will also be especially close to Earth that night, making it a so-called supermoon.

Totality, or total coverage of the moon, will begin at 4:41 UT on January 21 and will last for 62 minutes. The entire 3.5-hour event—including partial eclipses before and after totality—will be visible from western Europe, the Americas, Greenland, Iceland, and western Africa. Sky-watchers in eastern Europe and eastern Africa will witness only the partial eclipse, while people in most of Asia will not see any part of the sky show.

Stay tuned for our complete eclipse viewer’s guide later this month.

Venus joins Jupiter—January 22

Look for a close pairing of Venus and Jupiter on January 22.

Two of the brightest planets visible in Earth’s skies will join forces in a spectacular conjunction at dawn. Hazy Venus and huge Jupiter will appear to be separated by only two degrees, so that the brilliant duo will dominate the southeastern sky. As a bonus observing challenge, look carefully to the pair’s lower right to find the orange-hued stellar jewel, Antares, the lead star in the constellation Scorpius.

Trio of worlds—January 30-31

Venus, Jupiter, and the moon will form an enticing trio on January 30.

Early-bird sky-watchers will be treated to a stunning celestial trio at dawn on the 30th, as the waxing crescent moon glides into a tight formation with Jupiter and Venus. By the night of the 31st, the moon will be less than two degrees from Venus. That is about equal to the width of your thumb held at arm’s length, making it a visually striking conjunction not to be missed.

Clear skies!

Andrew Fazekas, the Night Sky Guy, is the author of Star Trek: The Official Guide to Our Universe and the second edition of The Backyard Guide to the Night Sky coming in March 2019. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook.