Say goodbye to 2023 and hello to 2024. The first month of the year brings along spectacular events in the sky for stargazers to enjoy. On the 2nd, the open star cluster Messier 41 is well positioned in the night sky reaching its highest point. The following night, the Quadrantids meteor shower reaches its peak at up to 120 meteors per hour.
During the middle of the month notable events will include Mercury reaching its greatest western elongation on the 12th and nice observational placements in the sky of Messier 47 and the spiral galaxy NGC 2403 on the 15th.
January's astronomy events will end with asteroid Eleonora reaching opposition on the 19th, the Full Wolf Moon on the 25th, and a beautiful placement of the Beehive open star cluster on the 31st.
(Looking to review last month's astronomy events? View December 2023)
Our highlighted list of astronomy events for January serves as your reference for key celestial targets to plan for during the month.
8 Astronomical Events in January 2024:
- Messier 41 is well placed - 1/2
- Quadrantid meteor shower peak - 1/3
- Mercury at greatest western elongation - 1/12
- Messier 47 is well placed - 1/15
- NGC 2403 is well placed - 1/15
- Asteroid 354 Eleonora at opposition - 1/19
- Full Wolf Moon - 1/25
- Beehive cluster is well placed - 1/31
Astronomy events to mark on your January 2024 calendar:
January 2nd - Messier 41 is well placed
The open star cluster Messier 41, also known as NGC 2287, will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time on Tuesday, January 2nd.
M41 is fairly faint at magnitude +4.5. Therefore, a pair of binoculars or a small aperture telescope will be needed for better visibility. Additionally, at a declination of 20°45'S, this star cluster cannot be seen well from latitudes north of 49°N.
Messier 41 contains about 100 stars and the diameter of the star cluster is 25-26 light years. It is estimated to be about 190 million years old.
Messier 41 on 1/2
- Magnitude: +4.5
- Right ascension: 06h45m50s
- Declination: 20°45'S
- Constellation: Canis Major
January 3rd - Quadrantids meteor shower peak
The Quadrantids meteor shower is active from December 26th to January 16th. It reaches its peak on the night of Wednesday, January 3rd. Its radiant point, the area from which the shower appears to emanate, is positioned in the Bootes constellation around right ascension 15h20m and declination 49.7°N.
According to the American Meteor Society, this meteor shower's ZHR will be approximately 120 meteors per hour. ZHR is an abbreviation for Zenithal Hourly Rate and is defined as the hourly rate at which a meteor shower produces with a clear, dark sky, and with the radiant at the zenith (highest point directly above the observer).
The parent body responsible for creating the Quadrantids shower is asteroid 2003 EH.
Tips for viewing meteor showers:
- Do not direct your gaze solely at the radiant point. The closer a meteor is in proximity to its radiant point, the more difficult it is to see because of its shorter trail.
- Position 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 weather.
- Bring a comfortable lawn chair in which you can recline 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 greater the chance of catching a glimpse of a meteor whizzing by.
January 12th - Mercury at greatest western elongation
Mercury will reach its widest separation from the Sun on Friday, January 12th. The planet will be positioned 23° west of the Sun shining at magnitude -0.3 in the Sagittarius constellation.
This is referred to as its greatest western elongation. These wide separation moments occur roughly once every 3-4 months.
Due to Mercury's close proximity to the Sun, the planet is often difficult to safely observe. Therefore, for stargazers, the exact dates of Mercury's greatest eastern and western elongation are significant moments that provide an opportunity for optimal observations.
At its greatest western elongation, Mercury will be most visible just before sunrise.
Mercury at greatest western elongation
- Magnitude: -0.3
- Right ascension: 17h52m30s
- Declination: 21°51'S
- Angular size: 6.6"
January 15th - Messier 47 is well placed
The open star cluster Messier 47, also known as NGC 2422, will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time on Monday, January 15th.
At magnitude +4.4, this cluster is difficult to see with the naked eye except when viewed from a dark site. However, you will get better visibility with the use of a small aperture telescope or a pair of binoculars.
At a declination of 14°28'S, this cluster can be seen at latitudes between 55°N and 84°S.
M47 is considered to be about 78 million years old and lies at a distance of about 1,600 light years away.
Messier 47 on 1/15
- Magnitude: +4.4
- Right ascension: 07h36m30s
- Declination: 14°28'S
- Constellation: Puppis
January 15th - NGC 2403 is well placed
The spiral galaxy NGC 2403, also known as Caldwell 7, will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time on Monday, January 15th.
At magnitude +8.9, this celestial object is very faint and will require the use of a small aperture telescope or a pair of binoculars to be clearly observed. Additionally, at a declination of 65°36'N, this spiral galaxy cannot be seen from latitudes that are too far south of 4°S.
NGC 2403 is positioned approximately 8 million light years away and was discovered in 1788 by William Herschel.
NGC 2403 on 1/15
- Magnitude: +8.9
- Right ascension: 07h36m50s
- Declination: 65°36'N
- Constellation: Camelopardalis
January 19th - Asteroid 354 Eleonora at opposition
On Friday, January 19th, Asteroid 354 Eleonora will be at opposition and will reach its highest point in the sky around midnight local time.
A celestial object "at opposition" refers to its 180° position opposite to the Sun. During this alignment Eleonora will rise at around sunset, and set at around sunrise.
Eleonora will be at a distance of 1.55 AU, shining at magnitude +9.5 in the Canis Minor constellation. A moderate aperture telescope or a pair of binoculars should be used to help you properly observe this asteroid.
Eleonora at opposition on 1/19
- Magnitude: +9.5
- Right ascension: 07h52m00s
- Declination: 9°22'N
- Constellation: Canis Minor
January 25th - Full Moon | Wolf Moon
On Thursday, January 25th, the Moon will reach the full phase of its 29.5 day lunar cycle rising at around dusk and setting at around dawn. This astronomical event occurs each time the Moon's ecliptic longitude appears 180° away from the Sun's ecliptic longitude.
According to the Farmers' Almanac, traditionally the Full Moon that occurs in January is referred to as the Wolf Moon. It is believed that the name originates from the observance of wolves being more likely to be heard howling at this time.
Full Wolf Moon
- Right ascension: 08h34m00s
- Declination: 23°41'N
- Constellation: Cancer
- Angular size: 29'47"
- Distance from Earth: 400,000 km (248,548 miles)
January 31st - Beehive cluster is well placed
The Beehive open star cluster, also known as Prasepe or M44, will reach its highest point in the sky at around midnight local time on Wednesday, January 31st.
At magnitude +3.1, this cluster may be difficult to see with the naked eye except when viewed from a dark site. However, the use of a small aperture telescope or a pair of binoculars will provide adequate views.
The Beehive cluster is one of the nearest open star clusters to Earth and is approximately 520-610 light years away.
Beehive cluster on 1/31
- Magnitude: +3.1
- Right ascension: 08h40m20s
- Declination: 19°40'N
- Constellation: Cancer
Plan your observations
Now that you know which celestial events are occurring in the night sky this month, make sure to plan for your observation sessions. Some of the events discussed above can be seen without any special optical equipment. However, a quality pair of binoculars or a premium telescope will significantly enhance your viewing experience.
If you're in the market for purchasing or upgrading your astronomy gear, we have a curated selection of binoculars, telescopes and accessories from which to choose. Our online store offers high quality optics from industry-leading brands at value prices to help you explore the world above.