Astronomy: What to look for in the skies in January 2022

Artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope

Artist conception of the James Webb Space Telescope - Credit: NASA GSFC/CIL/Adriana Manrique Gutierrez

James Abbott of North Essex Astronomical Society writes about what can be seen in the skies this month.

The bright planets that have been a feature of our evening skies become increasingly lost in evening twilight this month, though Jupiter can still be found low in the south west and the Young Moon will be close by Jupiter on the evenings of January 5 and January 6, best seen from 5pm to 6pm.

Having been an evening object at the end of 2021, Venus quickly moves into the pre-dawn morning sky and by the end of January will be prominent low down in the south east.

Following the Winter Solstice on December 21, daylight is now increasing again. By the end of January, we have gained an hour of daylight in the afternoon and half an hour in the morning.

Full Moon is on the night of January 17/18 and again is very high in the night sky, attaining over 60 degrees above the horizon when in the South.

This year marks 50 years since the Apollo programme ended. Apollo 16 went to the Moon in April 1972 and the final mission, Apollo 17, in December 1972. Not only has no-one been back to the Moon since, no humans have left Earth orbit since.

The James Webb Space Telescope has now been launched. It is the largest and most complex space telescope ever built and if all goes to plan it will allow astronomers to see much deeper into space than ever before.    

The Moon-free evening sky in the last week of January sees the full array of winter constellations in the south and the first of the constellations associated with Spring appearing in the east.

At 10pm, the constellation of Leo is about a third the way up the sky in the east, identified by the pattern of stars that looks like a backwards question mark.

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Regulus is the brightest star in Leo, located at the base of the question mark. Regulus is 78 light years away and at least 130 times more luminous than our sun.

Living on planet in the Regulus system (if it were possible) would present a sky straight from science fiction. There are at least four suns in the Regulus system and Regulus itself spins very fast, so it is egg shaped rather than round.   


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