tonights_sky

 

"Tonight's Sky" is written by retired planetarium director Dave Leake and reprinted with his permission. See Dave Leake's Prairie Skies column in the Champaign–Urbana News-Gazette each Sunday.


January 1–7

Happy New Year! We have a fun-filled year of skywatching coming up in 2023, including a partial solar eclipse on October 14.

We begin the year with many planets in the sky. At sunset this week, we have Venus low in the southwest around 5:15pm with Mercury to the lower right and Saturn far to the upper left. Jupiter is roughly halfway up in the sky in the south and Mars enjoys the company of the Moon in the east.

A waxing gibbous Moon sits just below Mars by only 2.5 degrees Tuesday evening. The Quandrantids Meteor Shower (named for an outdated constellation) peaks on Tuesday evening but that Moon will brighten the sky, preventing us from seeing fainter meteors.


January 8–14

At sunset this week, look towards the eastern horizon for the familiar constellation of Orion, our Hunter, and its three belt stars. At this angle, the three will appear to make a nearly vertical line. Just after 6:30pm, you’ll be able to trace a line through these three stars towards the east-southeastern horizon and the brilliant star Sirius the bright star appearing in our night sky. Watch Sirius rise. As its light passes through the thicker atmosphere near the horizon, the air will cause Sirius to twinkle like crazy and even change colors. This is an atmospheric effect though as Sirius is a white star, 26 times brighter than our Sun and the 5th closest to us.


January 15–21

The elusive planet Mercury passed between the Sun and Earth the first week of January and then entered the morning sky. For the early-risers out there, this is one of only two favorable Mercury sightings for 2023, the other being in mid-September. Greatest separation from the Sun occurs at the end of next week, but the Moon can help you this week. Wednesday evening, a crescent Moon rises near 4:30am with the red star Antares immediately to its right. Near 6:15am, Mercury rises to the lower left of this pair. Thursday evening, a very thin waning crescent Moon can be seen about halfway between the star and Mercury. Set an alarm and check it out!


January 22-28

The planets appear star-like but appear to change their positions in the sky from night to night. This is why the ancients called them “the wanderers.” Venus has slowly been getting higher in our evening sky, appearing to approach Saturn. Tonight, look low in the southwest at 5:30pm. Venus will be quite bright but can you see Saturn near it? Look a bit to the right of Venus and binoculars will help. At 0.4 degrees apart, this is the closest two easily-visible planets will appear together for all of 2023. A thin waxing crescent Moon will be below the pair this evening. Later in the week watch the two planets separate with Saturn getting lower and Venus higher.