January’s spectacular sky: Mercury, meteors and 2 Supermoons

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

Combined ShapeCaption
There is a lot happening in the cold January sky!

Credit: DaytonDailyNews

It is hard to believe 2017 is coming to a close in just a matter of days. You must admit, it has been an interesting year for weather.

From a record hurricane season to a spike in severe storms this year, it has been very busy. Ohio typically averages around 18 tornadoes per year, but 2017 saw more than 40.

One of the most talked-about events of the year was an event that took place high above the clouds. Who can forget the Great American Solar Eclipse back in August, which spanned from the west coast to the east coast?

» LATEST ON SKY EVENTS: #SkyWitness7 shows you when to see stars, meteors and other events

While the weather may have turned cold, the coming month of January will be quite busy in the night sky. There are several events to be on the lookout for during the first week of the new year.

On the morning of New Year’s Day, the planet Mercury reaches greatest western elongation of 22.7 degrees from the sun. This is the best time to view Mercury since it will be at its highest point above the horizon in the morning sky. Look for the planet low in the eastern sky just before sunrise.

The very next day, the first of two Supermoons for the year will occur. The moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the sun and its face will be will be fully illuminated. This phase occurs at around 9:24 p.m. local time.

» AMAZING PHOTOS: The December Supermoon, seen on social media

This full moon was known by early Native American tribes as the Full Wolf Moon because this was the time of year when hungry wolf packs howled outside their camps. If you live outside the cities, perhaps you have heard them yourself. The moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual on this day.

On Jan. 3 and 4, the Quadrantids meteor shower will be peaking with up to 40 meteors per hour. It is thought to be produced by dust grains left behind by an extinct comet known as 2003 EH1, which was discovered in 2003. The shower runs annually from Jan. 1-5. Unfortunately, the nearly full moon will block out all but the brightest meteors this year. If you are patient, you should still be able to catch some of the brightest ones. Best viewing will be from a dark location after midnight. Meteors can appear anywhere in the sky.

The month will end with a pretty spectacular show. On Jan. 31, the moon will be located on the opposite side of the Earth as the sun, and its face will be will be fully illuminated. Since this is the second full moon in the same month, it is sometimes referred to as a blue moon. This is also the last of two Supermoons for 2018.

» WHAT ABOUT THIS WEEK? Frigid morning start all week, snow showers to arrive at week’s end

Again, the moon will be at its closest approach to the Earth and may look slightly larger and brighter than usual. What will make this event even more spectacular is the fact that, if the weather cooperates, we’ll also get to see a total lunar eclipse right before the moon sets. A total lunar eclipse occurs when the moon passes completely through the Earth’s dark shadow, or umbra. During this type of eclipse, the Moon will gradually get darker and then take on a rusty or blood red color. The best time to see this “blood moon” will be just before sunrise on that Wednesday morning.

While January likely may be too cold for many casual stargazers, any snow on the ground will make viewing of the stars and the moon on a clear night even more vivid. So let’s hope for some good weather to see a great show in the sky next month.

Eric Elwell is WHIO StormCenter 7 Chief Meteorologist. Contact him at eric.elwell@coxinc.com or follow him on Facebook and Twitter.

About the Author