Make a New Year's resolution to stargaze in 2015! January kicks off the New Year with wonderful sights for backyard astronomers to enjoy with friends and family. Don't forget to bundle up and stay warm on clear evenings as you explore the sparkling night sky. Here are a few of our top picks for January stargazers:
- Meteor Madness - Bundle up and get outside on the nights of January 3 & 4 to see the Quadrantids meteor shower radiating from the constellation Bo÷tes. The nearly Full Moon will unfortunately outshine many meteors, but there will still be opportunities to see brighter meteors as they streak across the night sky. You don't need a telescope to enjoy this show, just a clear, dark sky and warm clothing. If you want to capture keepsake images of this spectacle, use the Orion StarShoot All-In-One Astrophotography Camera with the optional All-Sky Solution mounted on a tripod to capture time-lapse images of the meteor trails!
- Moon and Saturn Meet Before Dawn - On January 16th in the early morning, the crescent Moon and Saturn will pass within 1░50' of each other, low in the eastern sky, making a nice visual and wide-field binocular target. 2015 will be a great year to observe and photograph Saturn because its rings will be at nearly maximum tilt from our vantage point.
- New Moon - Take advantage of the dark New Moon phase on January 20th and break out your deep space gear to get great views of some deep sky objects. Since you don't have to worry about glaring moonlight during the New Moon phase, it's a great opportunity to obtain good views of fainter celestial objects from any location. For exceptional views, take your astronomy gear out to a location away from city lights with nice dark skies to really take advantage of the New Moon!
- Jovian Triple Shadow Transit - Mark your calendars for January 23rd and get ready for a very rare triple moon and shadow transit of Jupiter. Keep your telescope trained on Jupiter from approximately 7pm PST to about half-past 11pm PST to see three of Jupiter's moons, and their shadows, transit the face of the gas giant planet. The shadows of three Galilean moons Callisto, Io and Europa will cross the face of Jupiter as seen from Earth, followed by the moons themselves. Look for Jupiter between constellations Leo and Cancer. This exciting event provides earthbound observers an opportunity to see three eclipses on the biggest planet in our Solar System, all in one night.
- Orion High in the Sky - Our namesake constellation will be well-placed for backyard astronomers throughout January. Some of our favorite targets in or near Orion are:
- M42, The Great Nebula in Orion - Visible as the middle star of Orion's sword, this emission nebula looks amazing in everything from binoculars to the XX16g! Can you see the trapezium, the 4-star system at the center? Even viewers from moderate light- polluted areas can get a good sense of the glory of this object if you use an Orion UltraBlock or Oxygen-III filter.
- M78 - Another, much fainter, emission nebula M78 is located just left and above the left- most star in the Orion's belt. Again, an Oxygen-III filter can help.
- NGC 2174/2175 - A large emission patch and star cluster, this complex is located near the top of Orion's raised "hand". Under dark and clear skies this can be seen in larger binoculars such as Orion's 15x70 or 20x80 Astronomy Binoculars.
- Hind's Crimson Star - Just South of Orion is the constellation Lepus, the Hare. In Lepus you can catch a glimpse of the rare winter globular cluster M79, as well as R Leporius - a well known variable star that varies between magnitude +5.5 (just visible to the naked eye) to +11.7 with a period of about 427 days. What's interesting about this star is that because it is a "carbon star" it is very red; when at its brightest, the red color is unmistakable.
- January Challenge Object from Orion - Just west of Rigel, the bright blue/white star that marks the western "knee" of Orion lies the Witch Head Nebula (also called IC 2118), in the neighboring constellation Eridanus. The Witch-Head is a reflection nebula that shines from reflected light off of Rigel, like the reflection nebula in the Pleiades, M45. You don't need a big telescope; a wide field of view, low power and a dark sky are needed to see this challenging nebula. (Hint: Don't use filters). Can you see it? Let us know on Facebook!
All objects described above can easily be seen with the suggested equipment from a dark sky site, a viewing location some distance away from city lights where light pollution and when bright moonlight does not overpower the stars.