January 2023 is packed with remarkable astronomical events occurring in the night sky. The month kicks off with the peak of the Quadrantids meteor shower and a Full Wolf Moon. Mars and Uranus both station direct and begin their prograde motion along the ecliptic. We will wrap up the month with a Venus and Saturn conjunction and Mercury at its greatest western elongation.
(Looking to review last month's astronomy events? View December 2022)
Before we dive in, we want to wish you a happy new year! If one of your new year's resolutions include becoming more aware of the world above us, you've come to the right place.
Our list of the astronomy events for the month of January will help you plan your stargazing experiences by giving you an observation timeline of the key events to look for.
12 Astronomical Events in January 2023:
- Quadrantids Meteor Shower Peak - 1/3 to 1/4
- Earth at Perihelion - 1/4
- Full Wolf Moon - 1/6 @ 6:09pm EST
- Pallas at Opposition - 1/8 @ 2:01pm EST
- Mars Turns Prograde - 1/12 @ 3:55pm EST
- 3rd Quarter Moon - 1/14 @ 9:11pm EST
- Jupiter at Perihelion - 1/20
- Super New Moon - 1/21 @ 3:54pm EST
- Venus and Saturn Conjunction - 1/22 @ 5:12pm EST
- Uranus Turns Prograde - 1/22 @ 6:23pm EST
- 1st Quarter Moon - 1/28 @ 10:20am EST
- Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation - 1/30
Now that you have the overview timeline of events for the month, we will explore each of these in more detail below. You can click on a specific event listed above to jump directly to that section. Otherwise, to review the events chronologically, just keep scrolling down.
Astronomy events to mark on your January 2023 calendar:
1/3 to 1/4 - Quadrantids Meteor Shower Peak
The Quadrantids meteor shower is active from December 26, 2022 through January 16, 2023. Its radiant point, the area from which the shower appears to emanate, is positioned in the Bootes constellation between the end of the Big Dipper's handle and the head of the Draco constellation.
On the night of January 3rd into January 4th, the Quadrantids meteor shower will peak at approximately 80 meteors per hour, according to NASA.
The meteor shower's ZHR will be 120, according to the American Meteor Society. ZHR is an abbreviation for Zenithal Hourly Rate and is defined by the rate a meteor shower would produce with a clear, dark sky, with the radiant at the zenith (highest point directly above the observer).
The Quadrantids originate from asteroid 2003 EH1, which was discovered on March 6, 2003 by the Lowell Observatory Near-Earth Object Search.
Here are a few tips for viewing the Quadrantids:
- Do not direct your gaze solely towards the radiant point. The closer a meteor is in proximity to its radiant point, the more difficult it is to spot due to its shorter trail.
- Place yourself in a dark, secluded location away from light pollution and bright city lights.
- Allow for up to 30 minutes for your eyes to properly adjust to the dark environment.
- Make sure to dress appropriately for the cold winter temperatures.
- Bring a comfortable lawn chair to recline in or a blanket to lie back on.
- Try to observe as wide an area of the sky as possible. The broader your view of the sky, the higher the chance of catching a glimpse of a meteor whiz by.
1/4 - Earth at Perihelion
Annually, two weeks after the Winter Solstice, the Earth reaches its minimum distance away from the Sun. This closest point is called the Perihelion and it occurs on Wednesday, January 4th. During this time, the Earth and the Sun will be 91.403 million miles (147.099 million kilometers) apart from each other.
In contrast to Perihelion, the point at which the Earth and Sun are farthest apart is called the Aphelion. The Aphelion occurs in July, two weeks after the Summer Solstice.
The next time Earth is at Perihelion occurs on January 3, 2024.
1/6 - Full Moon | Wolf Moon
The first Full Moon of 2023 occurs on Friday, January 6th at 6:09pm EST. It is known as the Wolf Moon in many northern cultures. Since this Full Moon coincides with its apogee (farthest point away from Earth), it is also referred to as a Micromoon.
Full Moons indicate a specific phase of the Moon's 29.5 day lunar cycle at which it appears fully illuminated. Due to the bright light in the sky, these nights are not ideal for planetary or star cluster observations.
From our perspective on earth, the Full Moon appears opposite to the Sun in ecliptic longitude. Therefore, the Moon will be seen rising around sunset and setting around sunrise. Specifically, the Moon will rise above the horizon at 4:21pm EST on January 6th and set below the horizon at 7:52am EST on January 7th.
Other names associated with January's full moon are the Old Moon and Moon after Yule.
1/8 - Pallas at Opposition
On Sunday January 8th at 2:01pm EST, asteroid Pallas will reach opposition. Opposition occurs when a celestial object is positioned 180° away from the Sun. Basically, from our perspective on Earth, Pallas will appear at the opposite end of the sky away from the Sun's position.
A simpler way to conceptualize this is to imagine the Sun, Earth and Pallas all in a straight line with Earth placed in the middle.
Pallas is the third largest asteroid in our solar system in terms of volume and mass. It was discovered on March 28, 1802 by German astronomer Heinrich Wilhelm Olbers.
During opposition, Pallas will appear to rise at sunset and set at sunrise. The asteroid will be positioned in the southern part of the Canis Major constellation shining at a magnitude of 7.7.
1/12 - Mars Turns Prograde
After traveling in retrograde motion for over 10 weeks, Mars begins its prograde motion on January 12th at 3:55pm EST. This prograde motion refers to the eastward movement that Mars appears to travel along the ecliptic.
Mars enters its retrograde motion about once every 26 months. Therefore, it will remain in its prograde motion until December 6, 2024.
To observe the planet, look towards the Taurus constellation near the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters.
1/14 - 3rd Quarter Moon
On January 14th at 9:11pm EST, the Moon will reach its last quarter phase of its 29.5 day lunar cycle. During this 3rd quarter phase, the Moon rises above the eastern horizon around midnight and appears half-illuminated on its western side (in the Northern Hemispshere).
1/20 - Jupiter at Perihelion
Jupiter, the fifth planet from the Sun, will reach perihelion on January 20th. Perihelion is the point at which a planet is closest to the Sun. Jupiter and the Sun will be 460.224 million miles (740.659 million kilometers) away from each other on this day.
The next time Jupiter reaches Perihelion will be on December 5, 2034.
1/21 - Super New Moon
On January 21st at 3:54pm EST, there will be a Super New Moon located in the southwestern portion of the Capricornus constellation.
This New Moon is referred to as a Super New Moon because it will be at its closest proximity to the Earth. This is also known as the perigee. The Moon will be just 221,561 miles (356,568 km) away, which is the closest its been to Earth since the year 1030.
In general, the Moon reaches its New Moon phase once every 29.5 days. At this time, the Moon and the Sun appear to be situated at the same ecliptic longitude.
Although the Moon will be mostly unseen during this phase, the limited light exposure in the sky provides a great opportunity for observing fainter, higher magnitude star clusters and celestial objects.
1/22 - Venus and Saturn Conjunction
Venus will be 0°21' to the south of Saturn on January 22nd at 5:12pm EST. This event will occur just north of Deneb Algedi in the Capricornus constellation after sunset.
This is a great time to take out the binoculars or telescope to observe Saturn glowing at a magnitude of 0.7 and Venus shining at a magnitude of -3.9.
For those unfamiliar, magnitude is simply the measure of an object's brightness. The lower the number the brighter the object and the higher the number the fainter the object. The naked eye can see a celestial object as dim as roughly magnitude 6.0.
1/22 - Uranus Turns Prograde
On January 22nd at 6:23pm EST, Uranus will return to its prograde motion eastward along the ecliptic. As you may be aware, the planet has been traveling in a retrograde motion since August 24, 2022.
This event occurs in the southern part of the Aries constellation. At this time Uranus will be shining at a magnitude of 5.73.
1/28 - 1st Quarter Moon
The Moon will reach the first quarter phase of its lunar cycle on January 28th at 10:20am EST. At this time the Moon will shine half-illuminated on its eastern side (in the Northern Hemisphere) due to its apparent 90° positioning from the Sun.
Although many believe that the best time to observe the Moon is at its full phase, the first quarter phase is generally considered the ideal time for viewing. Details of the Moon that are less discernible during a Full Moon are much more pronounced during the First Quarter Moon.
On this day, the Moon will rise above the horizon around mid-day and set below the horizon around midnight.
1/30 - Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation
The planet Mercury will be at its widest separation of 25° west of the Sun on January 30th. This is referred to as its greatest western elongation.
Due to Mercury's close proximity to the Sun, it is typically more difficult to safely observe since accidentally looking directly at the Sun may be damaging to your eyes. Additionally, the Sun's bright light drastically outshines any celestial object near it making them hard to see.
For stargazers, the dates of Mercury's greatest western elongation and its greatest eastern elongation are significant moments. They provide an opportunity for more optimal observations of the closest planet to the Sun.
At its greatest western elongation, Mercury will be visible before sunrise shining in a waxing gibbous phase.
With so many unique astronomical events taking place in our sky this month, make one of your new years resolutions be to go outside and observe them.
Although many of the events we mentioned above can be observed without any special optical equipment, a premium telescope or quality pair of binoculars can significantly enhance your viewing experience.
If you're in the market for purchasing or upgrading your astronomy gear, we carry a curated collection of telescopes, binoculars and accessories from industry-leading brands that can assist your exploration of the night sky.