Sunrise and Sunset Times

Eastern Standard Time from the U.S. Naval Observatory

Sun rises at 7:23 a.m. and sets at 4:47 p.m. on the 1st.

Sun rises at 7:11 a.m. and sets at 5:19 p.m. on the 31st.

Moon’s Phases in January

New Moon on the 6th.

Full “Wolf Moon” on the 21st.

Stars and Constellations

Winter’s magnificent constellations are at their finest on January nights.

First, though, you should catch a last look at the Summer Triangle stars Altair, Vega and Deneb before they vanish below the northwestern horizon within a few hours after sunset in early January. A handful of the stars associated with autumn are still visible as well, including the upside down “W” of Cassiopeia, which is sinking a little lower in the northwest with each passing night.

After 8 p.m., the night sky is ruled by winter’s majestic stars, including Mirfak and Algol in the constellation Perseus, which is nearly overhead. Following Perseus is Auriga, the Charioteer, whose “eye” is the bright star Capella. Just south of Auriga is the zodiac constellation Taurus the Bull. Taurus contains not only the bright orange star Aldebaran but also the compact star cluster the Pleiades, or the Seven Sisters. Just east of Taurus is another zodiac group, Gemini, which contains the “twin” stars Pollux and Castor.

The most spectacular of all the winter constellations is Orion, the Hunter, which stands high in the south around the midnight hour during early January. Orion’s figure is composed of intrinsically luminous, young stars, most of which lie hundreds or even thousands of light years from our solar system. These include the four stars that outline his major perimeter: Betelgeuse, Bellatrix, Rigel and Saiph. Betelgeuse is a red supergiant, while the other three are blue giants or supergiants.

Cutting across Orion’s middle is his belt, a very distinct line of three bluish-white stars, Alnitak, Alnilam and Mintaka. Alnitak and Alnilam lie over 1,000 light years from our solar system, and Mintaka is over 2,000 light years distant. Extending downward from Orion’s belt is his sword, which contains the Orion Nebula, officially designated as Messier 42, a birthplace for thousands of new stars. It lies 1,500 light years from our solar system.

Orion is accompanied on the hunt by his two dogs, Canis Major, the Big Dog, and Canis Minor, the Little Dog, which are found to his upper and lower left, respectively. Canis Major contains the brightest appearing star in the sky, Sirius, which looks like a brilliant bluish-white beacon in the southeast during the evening hours of early winter. Look for Sirius as it rises at 7 p.m. at the beginning of January. Canis Minor has his own bright star, Procyon, the “Pup,” which rises just after 6:30 p.m. on New Year’s Day.

Naked-Eye Planets in the Evening and Morning Sky

Mars is the only bright planet visible in the evening sky; all the other naked-eye planets have shifted into the morning sky. As January opens, Mars stands moderately high in the south at nightfall; it resembles a bright orange star within the dim constellation Pisces. Mars, which is now over 10 times fainter than it was back in July at opposition, continues to fade as Earth pulls away from it. Mars sets at around 11:15 p.m. EST in mid-January.

Venus continues to delight early morning risers with its dazzling yellow radiance in the eastern sky, outshining all other nighttime objects except for the Moon. Venus’s orbit lies within Earth’s orbit, and therefore it can get only a certain maximum angular distance, called elongation, east or west from the Sun. Venus reaches its greatest western (morning) elongation this month on the 6th. For much of January, Venus rises 3½ hours before the Sun, well before the onset of morning twilight.

At the start of January, Mercury may be spotted low in southeast about 20 to 30 minutes before sunrise, but by the end of the first week of the month, the elusive planet vanishes into the dawn glow. Mercury reaches superior conjunction with the Sun on the 29th; it will reappear at dusk during February.

Jupiter, which resembles a very bright cream-colored star, is quickly gaining height in the eastern sky on January mornings, rising just after 5 a.m. EST on the 1st and by around 3:45 am on the 31st. On the 22nd, Jupiter and Venus lie less than 3 degrees apart in the eastern sky. Saturn is at conjunction with the Sun on Jan. 2 and will not become visible until the end of the month, when it will rise in the morning sky just after 5:30 a.m. This is just about the time that dawn twilight begins.

Earth reaches perihelion, or closest approach to the Sun, on Jan. 3, when it will be 3½ percent closer to the Sun than it was in July.

Information on lunar phases and rise/set times of Sun and planets is obtained from the U.S. Naval Observatory Data Services at usno.navy.mil/astronomy. Additional information comes from "The Astronomical Almanac (2016-2020)" by Richard J. Bartlett (Stars ‘n Stuff Publishing, 2015). For more information on the night sky, visit the Widener Observatory Stargazing website at widener.edu/stargazing. A set of free sky maps can be obtained at skymaps.com.

comments powered by Disqus