''Starting off the New Year, the planet Venus will just become visible to observers by the end of January, low in the WSW skies. Although dazzlingly bright, Venus will only be seen for some 15-20 minutes following Sunset but as the year progresses, will slowly draw away from the Solar glare and once more become a bright beacon in our evening skies.
Swinging around to the South and Southwestern Sky, the two outer gas giants of Uranus and Neptune are still in attendance but as ever, still require either binoculars or a telescope to view them so we turn our attention to the morning skies where most of the planetary activity continues to be found.
Mars and Jupiter are the main objects of interest for January as the two planets have an apparent "close encounter" in the first week of the month in the morning SE Sky. Mars starts the month slightly to the West of Jupiter, with Zubenelgenubi - the wonderfully named second brightest star in the constellation Libra - sandwiched between the two. A week later comes the fun. On the morning of the 6th, Mars appears around a Moon's diameter to the SW of Jupiter, and by the following morning closes the distance to less than half a Moon's diameter apart. This should provide an excellent opportunity to photograph the orange disc of Mars along with the much larger Jovian disc and brightest satellites. Although the two planets will start drawing apart from each other from then onwards, the waning crescent Moon will add a further photo opportunity as it passes by the planetary pairing on the morning's of 11th and 12th January.
The final planets on show, Mercury and Saturn, are both low in the SE skies in the morning. At the month start, Mercury rises some 2 hours before the Sun, being visible in the morning twilight, but quickly draws back towards the Sun by mid month. On the way it passes the fainter Saturn over the 12th to 15th January. A wafer thin Moon will join the couple on the 15th for a challenging photo shoot.
On the meteor front, January brings the primary shower of the year in the Quadrantids. This shower originates from an area of the sky between Ursa Major and Bootes which some old astronomical catalogues called Quadrans Muralis but this constellation now no longer features in current star charts although the name has stuck in the form of the Quadrantids. With a maximum number of around 100 meteors per hour under favourable conditions, this is usually the finest possible start to the meteor year. Unfortunately this time around, an almost Full Moon will drown out all but the brightest meteors from the shower over the predicted maximum on the 3rd January although they will still be worth a view given clear skies in the early hours a day or so either side of the maximum''
Massive thank you to Les Fry from Mid Wales Astronomy for all the information.
Best wishes for the New Year and clear skies to all.
Bethan (Snowdonia National Park Authority)
The attached sky chart shows the January skies for around 19.00 UT at mid month.