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Brian Carter: The January Night Sky

The January Night Sky
Brian Carter

The Carter Observatory wishes you all a wonderful holiday over the Christmas break and hope that 2008 is good to you all.

The January Night Sky

Towards the end of the month we will start to see the days getting shorter and, therefore, the nights for astronomy longer.


January is a fair month for viewing the planets. Mars, Saturn and Venus are visible all month. Jupiter will be visible in the morning sky for all but the start of the month. Mercury may just be visible in the evening twilight around the middle of the month.

Mars will be visible for the first three quarters of the night. At the start of the month it sets at 05 00 and at 02 37 by month’s end. Mars is in the constellation of Taurus. At the beginning of January its magnitude is –1.5, (it’s brightest for the year), and fades to –0.6 by the end of the month.

Mercury may just be visible in the evening twilight around the middle of January. By January 14 it sets at 21 54, which is 59 minutes after the Sun. Mercury starts the month in the constellation of Sagittarius, moving into Capricornus on January 9. On January 14 its magnitude is –0.8.

Saturn is visible for the last three quarters of the night. It rises at 23 54 at the start of January and at 21 53 by month’s end. Saturn is in the constellation of Leo, in which it remains until September 2009. Its magnitude slightly brightens from 0.6 to 0.4 during the month.

Venus will be visible in the Eastern morning twilight sky. At the beginning of January it rises at 03 29 and at 03 49 by month’s end. Venus starts the month in the constellation of Libra, moving into Scorpius on January 3, into Ophiuchus on January 7 and finally into Sagittarius on January 22. Venus slightly fades from –4.1 to –4.0 during January.

Jupiter will be visible in the morning twilight for all but the start of January. At the start of the month it rises at 05 23, only 28 minutes before Sunrise and at 03 55 by month’s end. Jupiter is in the constellation of Sagittarius, in which it remains until January 2009. Its magnitude slightly brightens from –1.8 to –1.9 during the month.

All times are for Wellington unless otherwise stated. Other centres may vary by a few minutes.

Phases of the Moon

New Moon – January 9 at 00 37.
First Quarter – January 16 at 08 46.
Full Moon – January 23 at 02 35.
Last Quarter – January 30 at 18 03.

Earth at Perihelion on January 3

The Earth is at perihelion (closest to the Sun) at 13 00 on January 3. The distance is 0.9832801 AU, which is 147,096,600 km.


This chart shows the sky as it appears at about 22 00 for ~January 15.

Click for big version

How To Use the Sky Charts
To use the sky chart hold it up to the sky so that the direction in which you are looking is at the lower edge of the map. For example, if you are looking at the western horizon then the map should be held so that the “WEST” label is at the lower edge. The altitude and direction of the stars and planets will then be correctly shown. The centre of the chart will be directly overhead.

If you would like to receive Carter Observatory’s full e-Newsletter, please email to to be included on the list.


Brian Carter is the Senior Astronomer at Carter Observatory (The National Observatory of New Zealand), PO Box 2909, Wellington. (DDI; 04 920 9252, Email: , Observatory Web Site:

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