• Team Backcountry

Night Lights: January 2021

Updated: Jan 5

Each month, our resident astronomer Karl fills us in on the night sky happenings to look up for.

As we wind down from the busy—albeit strange— holiday season, here are nine astronomical events to keep a lookout for in this first month of 2021!

January 4: The Latest Sunrise of the Year

This is the morning of the latest sunrise of the year, 7:21 am. Many believe the latest sunrise and earliest sunset occur on the winter solstice, “the shortest day of the year”. This discrepancy is proof that our orbit is elliptical. The earliest sunset occurred on December 6th, about two weeks before the solstice. A similar discrepancy will occur around the summer solstice as well.

January 6: The Last Quarter Moon

The Last or Third Quarter Moon will occur at 2:37 am. The Moon appears as a Half Moon in the sky. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by the Sun as we observe it from our orbit. The term “last quarter” is more accurately describing that the moon is ¾ of the way in its orbit around the Earth.

January 10: Mercury makes an Appearance

Mercury will make its first evening appearance of the year tonight. It will be visible in the afterglow of sunset. It can be found in a conjunction with Jupiter and Saturn. Look low near the west-southwest horizon about a half-hour after sunset. Jupiter will be at the top of the triangle and is the brightest of the three, with Mercury and Saturn forming the base angles. This might be the last evening view of Jupiter and Saturn, while Mercury gets higher in the coming days.

January 11: Venus and the Moon

This morning, Venus shines 4° to the left of a very thin crescent Moon forming a spectacular pair very low in the southeast dawn twilight, 60 to 30 minutes before sunrise.

January 13: The New Moon

New Moon will occur at 10 pm. In this phase, the Moon is not illuminated by direct sunlight and is completely invisible to the naked eye. The nights a few days before and after the New Moon are the best for viewing faint objects in the sky.

January 20: The First Quarter Moon

First Quarter Moon will occur at 2:02 pm. The Moon looks like a Half Moon in the sky. One-half of the Moon is illuminated by the Sun as we observe it from our orbit. The term “first quarter” is more accurately describing that the moon is ¼ of the way in its orbit around the Earth.

January 20: Mars and The Moon

Tonight, Mars will be about 7½° to the upper left of the Moon. Tomorrow night, Mars will be at a similar distance from the Moon, but to its upper right. This is an excellent example of how far the moon moves in the sky each day. Mars shines a steady yellow-orange high in the middle of the southern sky.

January 24: Best Time to Glimpse Mercury

Mercury is at its greatest elongation. This means that Mercury is at the furthest point in its orbit as observed from Earth. Since Mercury orbits the sun every 59 days, it's difficult to see most of the time. It is only when it reaches these points in its orbit that we can easily observe it from Earth. Look west-southwest about 30 minutes after sunset. Mercury will be at least 10° above the horizon, or about the width of your fist at arm’s length.

January 28: The Full Moon

The Full Moon will occur at 12:16 pm. The Moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the Sun and its face will be fully illuminated. This Full Moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Wolf Moon because it remembers the howling wolves hunting for food during the long, cold nights. This moon has also been known as the Cold Moon and the Moon After Yule.

Karl is the Aquatics Facility Coordinator at the HRCA's Northridge Recreation Center. His interest in astronomy took off at age six when Karl asked his dad to let him watch a total lunar eclipse. He majored in Recreation Management at the University of Kansas with a minor in Astronomy. Karl has always been interested in space and astronomy and would consider it his number one hobby. He has worked at HRCA since 2006 and can often be found helping at the Backcountry Wilderness Area's astronomy programs at Base Camp.

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