The Sky This Week from January 11 to January 20


Friday, January 11
Although Comet 46P/Wirtanen appeared brightest in mid-December, it currently glows at 6th magnitude and shows up nicely through binoculars or a telescope. This periodic visitor lies among the background stars of western Ursa Major, a region that remains visible all night but climbs highest around midnight local time. This evening, you can find Wirtanen just over 1° southeast of 3rd-magnitude Omicron () Ursae Majoris, the star that marks the nose of the Great Bear.

The dwarf planet Pluto is in conjunction with the Sun at 7 a.m. EST. The distant world then lies on the far side of the Sun from our perspective and can’t be seen.

Saturday, January 12

The waxing crescent Moon points the way to ruddy Mars this evening. The two lie about halfway to the zenith in the southwestern sky after darkness falls — with Mars about 5° to the Moon’s upper right — and remain a dynamic duo until they set around 11 p.m. local time. Mars remains a fixture in the evening sky all week. The ruddy world shines at magnitude 0.6 against the much dimmer background stars of Pisces the Fish. A telescope reveals a disk that spans 7″ and might show a few subtle surface features during moments of good seeing.

Sunday, January 13

You can find the First Quarter Moon high in the south as darkness falls tonight, then watch as it sinks toward the western horizon throughout the evening hours. Although our satellite doesn’t officially reach First Quarter phase until 1:46 a.m. EST tomorrow morning, you’ll be hard-pressed to see it as less than half-lit this evening. The Moon lies along the border between Pisces and Cetus.

Monday, January 14

One of the sky’s most familiar constellations rules January’s sky from dusk until near dawn. Orion the Hunter appears conspicuous in the southeast after darkness falls and climbs highest in the south around 10 p.m. local time. It then stands about halfway to the zenith from mid-northern latitudes. The night sky’s brightest star, Sirius, trails about an hour behind Orion.

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