Dark Skies January Update
The sky chart shows the stars for mid January at around 8pm and we can finally start the new year with a planet in the evening sky, although it's not the easiest one to spot! Mercury will put in an appearance in the south west skies for the first week in January, but although bright, it will only be some 7° above the horizon at sunset. The rest of the bright planets are found in the morning skies and this is still where the action is.
Venus is slowly getting lower in the morning skies, but continues to be the brightest of the planets on show. On the morning of the 9th Jan, there will be a close conjunction between Venus and Saturn, the pair being just about ⅕ of the apparent diameter of the moon apart. Skies permitting, it should be a great sight in binoculars or telescopes. The next brightest planet is Jupiter, some 45° to the west of Venus. Even with a simple pair of binoculars, you’ll be able to see up to 4 of the brightest satellites orbiting the planet. Mars is the final planet in the morning sky, currently midway between Venus and Jupiter. It's slowly brightening over the coming months, and it's reddish hue will become more apparent.
We have the Quadrantid meteor shower to look out for on the first couple of days of 2016, with a possible display of some 70+ per hour. The maximum is predicted for the early hours of the 4th Jan, so wrap up warmly and settle down with a good view to the eastern skies and to a hopefully great start to the new year.
Comet Catalina is also still visible, although only in binoculars or any telescope as a small fuzzy patch of light. In a camera, the comet shows a distinctive greenish color, just set a 100mm lens for a 4 sec exposure at 1600 ISO to capture this celestial visitor. See the map for a location guide with the Comet plotted every 3 days.
Finally, watch the moon pass across or occult a number of the stars in the Hyades cluster (part of Taurus), during the evening of 19th and into the morning of the 20th Jan.
Plenty to look out for then, so wishing you all the best for 2016 and clear skies!