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Nighttrek Report: What to See in the January Sky

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By Neill Simmons

The month of January holds many opportunities for planetary sightings.  One of the highlights is the return of the “Evening Star” low in the west after sunset which is the planet Venus.  Watch every night as it grows in brightness and slowly gets higher and higher in the west.  

In January, the Sun sets at about 5 pm in the beginning of the month and by the 31st it is setting at 5:20 pm.  Twenty minutes after sunset Venus is a sparkling diamond in the twilight of the early evening. 

Saturn is near by Venus and easy to spot with the naked eye.  Watch each night as it moves closer to Venus. Make sure to look on Monday the 23rd when both planets appear to be close together.  Saturn and Venus are in the Zodiac constellation of Capricornus.

Mars is still a super bright orange point of light high in the east after sundown.  Earth and Mars are still quite close to each other in January but slowly we will be moving away from Mars as 2023 moves forward. Mars is in the Zodiac constellation of Taurus “the Bull.”  This constellation is most famous for its giant red star, Aldebaran.

If you have binoculars, there is a good opportunity to spot the white polar caps of Mars.

The giant planet Jupiter is also still high and very bright in the south.  It is in the Zodiac constellation of Pisces. 

DAWN PATROL:   At 6 am while it is still dark, go outside to see the planet Mercury on the 28th.  This tiny planet will be at its highest point in the dawn sky. 

The January full Moon is named the “Wolf Moon”’ after the howling of hungry wolves because of the scarcity of food at this time of the year.

One of the most recognizable constellations is Orion, the hunter in Greek mythology. It is especially outstanding in the January night sky.  Just look up and there it is in the south.  Look for the three stars in a straight row that make up Orion’s belt.  Notice that all three are equal in brightness.  Orion’s shoulder star is orange in color and has the famous name of Betelgeuse.  Also, at Orion’s knee is the blue and white star named Rigel, which is one of the brightest stars in the heavens.   

Below Orion is the  brightest star which is called Sirius or the “Dog Star.”  Sirius derives from a  Greek word meaning “glowing.”  Sirius is one of our closest neighbors at 8.6 light years away.  It is the main star in the constellation Canis Major.  

FUN FACT:  The star Sirius flickers and twinkles in three colors – white, blue and red – when it is near the horizon. This rapid flashing of color and brightness is caused by the star’s light being refracted in the layers of the Earth’s atmosphere.

When not stargazing, Neill Simmons is a Wealth Advisor with LPL Financial in Woodland Hills.  If you have any astronomy or financial questions, he may be reached at (818) 936-2626 or emailed at neill.simmons@lpl.com.