The Best Skywatching Moments of January

The Milky Way's Galactic Center in the night sky above Paranal Observatory. (Photo: ESO)

The year 2020 is expected to provide an amazing array of skywatching opportunities, as MNN's Michael d'Estries made clear. Nearly every night of the year, the sky provides a celestial spectacle worth staying up for, but it helps to focus on the highlights.

Below are a handful of worth-the-effort stargazing opportunities you can catch this month.

Quadrantids meteor shower

A Quadrantid meteor lights up the sky above New Mexico. (Photo: Mike Lewinski [CC BY 2.0]/Flickr)

The Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower producing upwards of 100 shooting stars an hour, peaked at the beginning of the month. The shower is the result of Earth passing through a debris field created by a fractured comet some 500 years ago.

Unlike other meteor showers, the Quadrantids can only be seen in a short specific window, so if you missed it, check out this video from Germany of this year's display:

Wolf Moon eclipse (Jan. 10-11)

The one in 2020 will be just a full wolf moon eclipse.
The beginning of the super blood wolf moon eclipse from Jan. 20, 2019. (Photo: RobDun/Shutterstock)

The Wolf Moon eclipse on Jan. 10 is the first of many full moons this year and it's also the first of several penumbral lunar eclipses. A penumbral eclipse is when the Earth’s lighter outer shadow (penumbra) covers the moon, so it's more subtle. The eclipse will occur during the full moon phase. These two events combined mean the moon will appear slightly darker than usual.

Those living in Australia, Asia, Africa, Northern Europe, northern Canada and Alaska can expect the best visibility of the eclipse. For people in most of North and South America, it will be almost impossible to see because the full moon will hit its peak around 2:21 p.m. EST — in the middle of the day. No worries though, as plenty of penumbral eclipse opportunities are set to happen this year, with the next occurring on June 5.

For the Americas, the treat will be seeing the full moon rise in the west. Its nickname stems from its common appearance during the time of the year when wolves are most likely to be heard. Other names include Snow Moon, Moon after Yule and the Spirit Moon.

SpaceX Falcon 9 & Starlink launches

In late 2019, Elon Musk and SpaceX began launching satellites as part of the Starlink mission to create the most advanced worldwide broadband internet system. Jan. 6 marks the first of three satellite launches using the Falcon 9 reusable rocket during the month.

The mission's intends to create a high-performance global network not bound by ground infrastructure limitations, like accessibility and cost. SpaceX has targeted 2020 as the launch year for the service, with coverage and speed increasing throughout 2021.

Each of the three launches is expected to put 60 more satellites in space for the service. Luckily, SpaceX designed the satellites in a way to reduce space waste and debris. At the end of their life span, they will propel themselves out of orbit and burn up in the Earth's atmosphere within one to five years.

The launches are set to occur at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida for those wanting a glimpse. They frequent as live streams on the MNN Facebook page for those not able to make the journey to the Sunshine State.

Venus grows brighter in the night sky

The planet of Venus as captured in visible light. Carl Sagan first posed a question about what could survive in the clouds of Venus, which have more favorable conditions than the surface of the planet. (Photo: NASA)

The Earth's celestial neighbor is set to grow brighter as we progress into the month. Venus will be easy to spot in the western sky from now until May. But this month the planet named after the goddess of love and beauty will be bright enough to see with the naked eye, say the experts at EarthSky. Venus peeks out after sunset for between two and three hours a night throughout the month.

On Jan. 27, you can use the brightness of Venus as a starting point to see Neptune with a telescope. Once you locate Venus — which will be bright and visible — direct the telescope down and a bit to the right. You should see what looks like a dim blue star. In addition, you can use the young waxing crescent moon on the 27th and 28th as a guide to see Mercury. What a bevy of planets to find in this exciting celestial month!