Full moon on Jan. 16 often referred to as the 'wolf moon,' 'old moon' or 'moon after yale'
During the first half of the month, Venus, which has shone so brilliantly as the "evening star" throughout the autumn, makes a graceful exit.
Still visible low in the SW sky at dusk as January begins, Venus will sink lower each evening, until by about the 11th, when it goes through inferior conjunction (passes between the Earth and the sun), it will disappear from the evening sky.
Venus returns to the sky as the "morning star" during the latter half of the month, by which time it will have brightened to mag. -4.8. Look for it in the SE sky about 45 minutes before sunrise. The waning, crescent moon slips from the upper right of Venus to its lower left on Jan. 28-29.
Mercury, having passed superior conjunction (passed behind the sun) on Dec. 29, should be visible low above the WSW horizon as dusk falls after the middle of the month. Mercury reaches its greatest elongation (angular distance from the sun as seen from Earth) on Jan. 31, sitting about 10 degrees (a fist's width at arm's length) above the WSW horizon approximately 45 minutes after sunset. A thin, crescent moon sits to the lower right of Mercury.
Jupiter arrives at opposition (on the opposite side of the Earth from the sun) on Jan. 5, when it is almost its biggest and brightest for 2014. Visible low in the ENE as darkness falls, Jupiter will shine brilliantly (mag. - 2.7) high in the sky all night long, providing ample opportunity to view this magnificent planet and its moons. The near full moon sits to the right of Jupiter about an hour after sunset on the evening of Jan. 14 and directly below it on Jan. 15.
Mars rises around midnight as January begins and about an hour earlier by month's end. Brightening from mag. +0.9 to mag. +0.3 this month, Mars' 90 per cent-lit disk also increases in apparent size, large enough to start showing some surface details in decent-sized telescopes under excellent viewing conditions. The waning, gibbous moon slides from right to left beneath Mars in the pre-dawn hours of Jan. 22-23.
Saturn rises in the east around 3 a.m. as January commences, and by about 1:30 a.m. at the end of the month. This beautiful, ringed planet shines at mag. +0.6 all month, and appears at its highest point in the SSE sky about an hour before sunrise. On Jan. 25, Saturn sits only 1-2 degrees from the waning crescent moon.
Nothing remains of Comet ISON. It did not survive its perihelion journey around the sun and disintegrated into a faint debris field without any solid core or nucleus. However, Comet Lovejoy, though slowly fading in brightness (now about mag.+5.5) since perihelion on Dec. 25, should still be visible in binoculars and telescopes (and perhaps naked-eye under dark skies) in the ENE sky just before dawn (try around 6 a.m.) in the constellation of Hercules - the Giant.
January has two new moons, the first having occurred on Jan 1, and the second due on Jan. 30. Both these moons are referred to as "super moons," a new or full moon which occurs with the moon at or near (within 90 per cent of) its closest approach to Earth.
January's full moon on Jan. 16 was often referred to as the "wolf moon" by the native peoples of North America because of the wolves that could be heard howling on the clear, moon-lit nights of January. Others called it the "old moon" or the "moon after yule."
Until next month, clear skies and happy New Year.
Jan. 4 - Earth at perihelion (closest to sun); 7:59 a.m.; approx. 147,166,460 kms.
Jan. 7 - First quarter moon; 11:39 p.m.
Jan. 15 - Moon at apogee (farthest from Earth); 9:54 p.m.; 406,536 kms.
Jan. 16 - Full moon; 12:52 a.m.
Jan. 24 - Last quarter moon; 1:19 a.m.
Jan. 30 - New ("Super") moon; 5:39 p.m.; moon at perigee (closest to Earth); 5:59 a.m.; 357,079 kms.
Glenn K. Roberts is a member of the Charlottetown Centre of the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada (RASC). His column appears in The Guardian once a month. He welcomes comments from readers. Anyone who would like to comment on his column is encouraged to email him at email@example.com