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Star Trak: January 2022

For immediate release: January 1, 2022

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- As the new year begins, Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury, and Venus will form a straight line 40 degrees long in the southwestern sky a half hour after sunset. In a single view you'll be able to see four of the five bright naked-eye planets! Jupiter will be highest, about 20 degrees above yellow Saturn. Venus will be lowest, near the horizon.

Mercury will be less than 4 degrees from Saturn on Jan. 12 and 13. The two planets will be similarly bright, but binoculars may be needed to see them just 6 degrees above the west-southwestern horizon 45 minutes after sunset.

As the morning sky brightens, early risers can watch Mars, the Red Planet, continue its journey past the similarly red star Antares low in the southeast. Mars will move away from Antares at a rate of half a degree per day during January. It will rise two hours before the sun.

Mars and Venus will be joined by the moon low in the southeast a half hour before sunrise on Jan. 28-30. Brilliant white Venus will far outshine its orange-red companion.

Meteor shower

The Quadrantid meteor shower will be active for the first week of January, peaking during the hours before dawn on Jan. 3. The almost-new moon will not interfere with the display. Observers in North America with a clear dark sky may see about 25 meteors per hour shortly before the start of morning twilight. The Quadrantids will appear to come from a point called the radiant near the end of the handle of the Big Dipper, which will rise in the northeast. The radiant is in the constellation Bootes, which contains the bright orange star Arcturus. Try facing toward the Big Dipper. If you extend the curve formed by the handle's three stars, it forms an "arc to Arcturus." Meteors should be visible in all parts of the sky, but the higher Arcturus is above the eastern horizon, the more meteors there will be. More information about viewing meteor showers is available from the American Meteor Society at https://www.amsmeteors.org/meteor-showers/.

Perhelion

Earth will be closest to the sun in its orbit, the position called perihelion, on Jan. 4. A common misconception is that our seasons are caused by Earth's changing distance from the sun, but the actual cause is the tilt of Earth's axis. In the Northern Hemisphere, winter happens when the North Pole is tilted away from the sun, so sunlight must pass through more of Earth's atmosphere to reach the surface. We experience the coldest time of year when we are closest to the sun.

Moon

The moon will be new on Jan. 2, at first quarter on Jan. 9, full on Jan. 17, and at last quarter on Jan. 25.

Author: Hal Kibbey Email: hkibbey [at] gmail.com

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