From Quadrantid meteor shower to cosmic dogs that will light up skies, stargazers are in for treat this January

Quadrantid meteor shower is predicted to make an appearance on January 4 at 3 am, even as Mars gets closer to Earth, starting this month.


                            From Quadrantid meteor shower to cosmic dogs that will light up skies, stargazers are in for treat this January
Stargazing events in January. (Getty Images)

January 2020 promises to be an exciting month for stargazers. Starting off with a meteor shower, other sightings such as cosmic dogs and our neighboring planets will also take a centerstage this month.

Watch out for Quadrantid meteor shower

The New Year is off to a good start, as it makes way for the Quadrantid meteor shower on January 4, at 3 am ET in North America, according to the International Meteor Organization (IMO). Every year, the meteor shower is nominally active from December 27 until January 10 each year.

NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center recorded these two simultaneous Quadrantid meteors on Jan 4, 2012. (NASA)

Quadrantid meteor showers are leftovers of an asteroid. As Earth orbits the Sun, they cross paths with cosmic leftovers of comets or asteroids. When that happens, the debris crashes into Earth’s atmosphere, creating the show. But the Quadrantid meteor is unusual: most meteor showers are borne out of comets, and not asteroids.

Further, these meteor showers are fainter than the other meteor showers happening this year. It also does not help that the peak is short-lived with an average duration of about four hours.

But fret not, according to the IMO, the first quarter Moon will set near local midnight. This is good news for meteor shower enthusiasts because moonlight tends to interfere with meteor spectacles. To get the best view, make sure you are in a place away from city lights and traffic.

Cosmic dogs in the skies

This month, three dog-shaped constellations are set to dazzle the skies: one, lying near the North Pole of the sky and the other two appearing in winter.

Some constellations look like people or animals. Sagittarius looks like a teapot. (NASA)

One of them is called Canes Venatici, Latin name for hunting dogs. Stars belonging to the constellation are faint, except Cor Caroli. It is believed that the star is named after Charles I of England, who was executed in 1649.  However, other reports claim that the star was named in honor of Charles II, who restored the English monarchy to the throne in 1660. Make sure to turn your telescopes towards the skies this month.

Orion the Hunter is also making an appearance. According to mythology, Orion is a huntsman, who is placed among the stars as the constellation of Orion. He is accompanied by his two hunting dogs: Canis Minor (small dog) and Canis Major (the greater dog), both constellations. The small dog houses Procyon: the brightest star in that constellation.

Procyon is described as a modest star, about seven times brighter and nearby 11.4 light-years from the Sun. It is the eighth brightest star in the sky. The best time to view Procyon, according to experts, is in the evening: late winter through spring.

Procyon appears closer to its brighter brother or the lead star of the greater dog constellation: Sirius. Lying just 8.6 light-years away, Sirius happens to be the brightest star in the sky. You can catch the best view of the star by looking at the Northern Hemisphere's winter night sky. According to NASA, if Sirius was placed next to our sun, it would outshine our Sun by more than 20 times over.

Planets galore

January's night sky has another treat in store for those interested in catching a glimpse of the brightest planets: Mercury, Venus, Mars, and Jupiter.

Mercury will appear throughout the month, starting January 10. Experts say that the planet can be easily spotted in the west-southwest sky. By the end of this month, the planet is expected to set a full hour after the Sun. On January 25, about half-an-hour after sunset, use binoculars to scan low above the west-southwest horizon for the exceedingly thin arc that is a waxing crescent moon, only one day past new. And a couple of degrees to its immediate right will be Mercury, according to the Space.com.

Mars Close Approach happens about every 26 months. (NASA)

Venus is set to show itself in the southwest sky at sunset. During the first half of the month, the planet will not set until about two-and-a-half hours after the sun, improving to three hours towards the end of the month. Both Mercury and Venus will light up the sky, as the former will begin appearing far below and to the latter's right during the final week of the month.

Mars will be getting closer to Earth, starting January. But 2020 will be a great year for Mars, with the planet appearing 40 times brighter than usual. This year will see four missions to Mars, as countries take advantage of the close proximity.

Jupiter, on the other hand, will stay low-key during the first half of the month. This will, however, change after January 22: the giant planet will be seen low in the morning twilight sky.

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