This is Dudley Observatory’s Skywatch Line for Friday, January 3, through Sunday, January 5, written by Sam Salem.
On Friday, Sun rises at 7:27am and sets at 4:34pm; the waxing gibbous Moon rises at 12:12pm and sets at 12:00am. We have experienced the shortest day of the year two weeks ago. However, the Sun continued to rise slightly later with each passing day. That trend stops on Sunday morning. Sunday, January 5, has the latest sunrise of the year.
Earth is at perihelion, its closest to the Sun for the year, at 2:48am on Sunday morning. Perihelion, is derived from the Greek roots, peri meaning near and helios meaning Sun. At perihelion, Earth swings to within 91,398,199 miles of the Sun. Earth reaches aphelion, its most distant point, on July 4. Then Earth will be 94,507,635 miles from the Sun.
Venus, at magnitude –4.0, shines in the southwest in evening twilight, crossing central constellation Capricornus. Venus is still nearly on the far side of the Sun from us. In a telescope, it appears small, 13 arc-seconds, and gibbous phase. Mars, at magnitude 1.6, is fairly low in the southeast before and during early dawn. Mars also is on the far side of the Sun from us and is a very tiny 4 arc-seconds in diameter.
The Quadrantid meteor shower reaches its peak on Saturday morning. The slightly gibbous Moon sets around 1am. The Quadrantid shower typically produces up to 120 meteors per hour, an average of two per minute. Under ideal dark conditions with the radiant overhead you might see up to 120 meteors per hour. Off peak, your count may be more like a dozen or two per hour at best.
The meteors appear to radiate from a spot in the northern part of the constellation Boötes, an area once occupied by the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis, a region that climbs highest just before dawn. It’s best seen from northerly latitudes because the radiant point for this shower is so far north on the sky’s dome.
Two of the finest deep-sky objects shine prominently on evenings in early January. The Pleiades and Hyades star clusters climb highest in the south during mid evening but remain conspicuous nearly the whole night. The Pleiades, also known at the Seven Sisters and M45, appears like a small dipper to the naked eye. The larger Hyades forms the V-shaped head of Taurus the Bull.