What’s new: January 2021 [Video]

What’s new: January 2021 [Video]

Source:

NASA / JPL-Caltech

Posted:

December 31, 2020

More information on the observation of the sky for the current month

Transcription

What’s new for January? Get closer to the Sun, easily spot the outer planet, and have the chance to catch fast moving Mercury.

The New Year begins with planet Earth at the point closest to its orbit around the Sun, called perihelion, on January 2. You may have learned in school that the Earth orbits a certain distance from the Sun and its orbit is almost circular. The average distance from Earth to the Sun is called an astronomical unit, but because our orbit is not a perfect circle, sometimes it means we are a little closer to the Sun, and sometimes further.

The standard distance from Earth to the Sun is called an astronomical unit, or AU. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

In fact, our distance from the Sun varies by about 3 million miles over the course of the year. This is almost 13 times the distance from Earth to the Moon.

At perihelion, Earth will be approximately 91.5 million kilometers from our local star. And when we are at the farthest point, it is called “aphelion”. This is happening this year on July 5, when we will be about 94.5 million miles away.

If you have access to binoculars or a telescope, you might want to take them out on January 20, which provides an easy opportunity to see the planet Uranus. The distant, outer planet is too faint for most of us to see with the naked eye, and it can be difficult to locate it in the sky without a computer-guided telescope. But on the 20th, Uranus will be located right between the Moon and Mars. That evening, find the crescent moon and the red planet a few hours after dark. Travel your way from Mars to the Moon, and you should be able to find the pale bluish disc of Uranus.

Uranus_finder_skychart_01202021

Find the Moon and Mars on January 20 to guide you to the faint and distant planet Uranus. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Along with Neptune, Uranus has only been visited by one spacecraft so far, namely NASA’s Voyager 2, over 30 years ago. And as more recent views from the telescope have revealed the active atmosphere beneath its hazy, blue exterior, scientists are eager to return one day to take a closer look at it.

The last two weeks of January provide opportunities to see the rapidly moving planet Mercury. Look for the innermost planet in our solar system just after sunset from mid-month. You will need a clear view to the west, as Mercury will appear a few degrees above the horizon (about the width of your outstretched fist).

Mercury_skychart_lateJan2021

Mercury is visible low in the west after sunset in the second half of January 2021. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

This tiny planet orbits much closer to the Sun than Earth, which means that it also circles the Sun much faster, ending its “year” in about a quarter of the time it takes Earth to make one. tower. And that’s why we’re fortunate enough to see Mercury in the sky every three months or so, as it seems to be going back and forth from one side of the Sun to the other. But Mercury never moves too far from the Sun from our perspective, so we only see the little planet just before or after sunrise or sunset.

Last visited by NASA’s MESSENGER spacecraft, which completed its mission in 2015, Mercury is expected to see a new visitor in orbit in 2025, when the joint European and Japanese mission BepiColombo arrives there.

Here are the phases of the Moon for January.

MoonPhases_Jan2021

The phases of the Moon for January 2021. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

You can follow all of NASA’s missions to explore the solar system and beyond at nasa.gov. I’m Preston Dyches from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, and that’s what’s happening this month.


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Arline J. Mercier

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