|January 3 and 4
|Quadrantids Meteor Shower Predicted Peak
|Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation
|January 13 and 14
|Moon and Saturn ‘Dance’
|Full Wolf Moon
A new year often means resolutions and a fresh planner. This year brings another 366 days of stargazing, since 2024 is a leap year. While the lack of daylight in the Northern Hemisphere can zap our energy, the extra hours of darkness means more time for watching the stars. The cold air this time of year is less hazy than it is during the summer, so celestial bodies are easier to see if there are fewer clouds. Here are some cosmic events to keep and eye on as we welcome in 2024.
January 3 and 4– Quadrantids Meteor Shower Predicted Peak
The Quadrantids is technically the year’s first meteor shower. It typically begins in the middle of November of the preceding year and ends by the middle of January. This year, it is predicted to peak in the early morning hours on January 3 and 4.
While it is not as dramatic as December’s Geminids or July’s Persieds, the Quadrantids can produce over 100 meteors per hour under a dark sky without a bright moon. It is also known for producing the occasional fireball. According to NASA, “fireballs are larger explosions of light and color that can persist longer than an average meteor streak. This is due to the fact that fireballs originate from larger particles of material. Fireballs are also brighter, with magnitudes brighter than -3.”
For 2024, looking for shooting stars after 1 a.m. local time wherever you are will be the best bet for stargazing. However, the moon will also be rising, so the light may drown out the more faint shooting stars.
January 12– Mercury at Greatest Western Elongation
Mercury will reach its greatest separation from the sun on January 12. Look for the Mercury low in the eastern sky just before sunrise local time. The planet will brighten rapidly at the beginning of this morning apparition. Before it appears, Mercury will have passed between the Earth and the sun. When its unilluminated side is turned towards Earth, it will appear as a thin, barely-lit crescent. As the apparition continues, the crescent will grow and the planet will get brighter.
January 13 and 14– The Moon and Saturn ‘Dance’
While not as exciting as 2020’s ‘Great’ Conjunction of Jupiter and Saturn, the moon will appear close to our solar system’s most famous ringed planet this month. The moon will appear to float above Saturn on the 13th and then will dip below the ringed planet on the 14th. In Eastern Time, the two will be visible before the moon sets at about 8:10 p.m.
January 25– Full Wolf Moon
If peak illumination is during daylight hours where you are, the moon will still be bright visible in the northeastern horizon after sunset.
January’s full moon is called the Wolf Moon. The name is believed to have Celtic and Old English roots and references to the hungry packs of wolves that prowl during the winter months. Additional names for this first full moon of the year include the Start of the Winter Moon or Maajii-bibooni-giizis in Anishinaabemowin (Ojibwe), the Waning Moon or Tahch’awɛka in Tunica, and the Cracking Tree Moon or Putheʔnaawe Mtokw Neepãʔuk in the Mahican Dialect of the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Wisconsin.
The same skygazing rules that apply to pretty much all star gazing activities are key this month: Go to a dark spot away from the lights of a city or town and let your eyes adjust to the darkness for about a half an hour.