Mars disappears into sunset January skies

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This month Mars will finally disappear into the sunset after hanging above the western horizon for most of the late summer and fall. Shining at magnitude +1.2 it will be difficult to spot and will appear as a tiny, fuzzy red dot. Binoculars will definitely be needed to find the red planet.

This month Mars will finally disappear into the sunset after hanging above the western horizon for most of the late summer and fall. Shining at magnitude +1.2 it will be difficult to spot and will appear as a tiny, fuzzy red dot. Binoculars will definitely be needed to find the red planet.

Having reached opposition in December, Jupiter will spend most January nights high in the sky and well placed for telescopic viewing. Fading slightly to magnitude -2.5 it will nevertheless outshine everything else, except the moon. You will find it hanging out on the northern edge of the Hyades star cluster. Most of us recognize part of this cluster as the “V” of Taurus “the Bull,” which includes the bright orange/red giant star Aldebaran.

Saturn rises around 2 a.m. at the beginning of the month and two hours earlier by month’s end. This month will be one of the best viewing months for the rings since 2006. The rings have opened to 19 degrees from edge-on. Saturn has now reached quadrature (90 degrees west of the sun) ,which means that it will be lit from the side. A consequence of the lighting angle is that the shadows of the rings should be prominent on the planet’s surface. The shadows should be easy to see with a moderate size telescope.

Mercury will be invisible to the unaided eye all month long while Venus is starting to sink toward the eastern horizon as it ends its current morning apparition. By the end of the month the brilliant planet will only be a degree and a half above the horizon.

The moon will be last quarter on the 5th, new on the 11th, first quarter on the 18th and full on the 27th. Looking south on the 6th, about an hour before sunrise, the waning moon will be to the right and just below Saturn. On the 8th, about 40 minutes before sunrise, the waning crescent moon will be just to the left of Venus only a few degrees above the horizon.

On the 13th, about an hour after sunset, the new crescent moon will be a few degrees directly above the red planet Mars, which will be only about 10 degrees above the horizon. On the 21st the waxing gibbous moon will again be very close to giant Jupiter. In the southern hemisphere Jupiter will be occulted by the moon.