The astronomical events of January 2021

astronomical events January 2021

January is a month with some amazing astronomical events to discover! Come explore the astronomical events of January 2021 with us! Learn more about Earth at Perihelion, the Quadrantid meteor shower, the y-Ursae Minorid meteor shower and the conjunction of Mars and Uranus!

Let us guide you through the astronomical events of January 2021. To start the year off, we have handpicked four mesmerizing astronomical events for this month! While choosing these astronomical events we have done our best to pick some fascinating that are also visible with the naked eye. However, if you happen to have binoculars or a telescope at your disposal, feel free to use them. Be sure to write down the dates of the events in your calendar so you won’t miss them! 

astronomical events January 2021

Astronomical Event #1: Earth at Perihelion

On Saturday the 2nd of January the Earth is at Perihelion. This means that the Earth’s annual orbit around the solar system carries it to the closest point to the Sun. Every day in a year, the Earth’s distance from the Sun varies. One complete orbit of the Earth takes about one year. However, the orbit of the Earth is not circular but oval-shaped. Therefore, the orbit of the Earth is an ellipse with the Sun. A perihelion is the point in the orbit of a planet that is nearest to the Sun.

Each year one orbit-cycle is completed which causes the Earth to make its closest approach to the Sun. This takes place on approximately the same day each year. In the year of 2021, this is on Saturday the 2nd of January.

Being closer to the Sun however may cause you to believe that the Sun would be larger in the sky. However, this is not the case since the distance between the Earth’s distance from the Sun is very small. Therefore, the phenomenon of the Earth at Perihelion is barely noticeable. In addition, changes in our weather such as the changes of the season are not caused by the Earth’s distance from the Sun but rather by the tilt of the Earth’s axis of rotation.

Astronomical Event #2: Quadrantid meteor shower

The Quadrantids are a January meteor shower. The name of the meteor shower resonates from a constellation named in 1795 by the French astronomer Jérôme Lalande. This constellation was named Quadrans Muralis, but is now part of the constellation Boötes. Depicted as a herdsman with a club, Boötes follows Ursa Major, the bear. 

The Quadrantid meteor shower will be active from Saturday the 12th of December to Tuesday the 12th of January. The peak rate of meteors can be seen on Sunday the 3rd of January. The Quadrantids is an annual shower, which means that each year in January you have the chance to see the meteor shower!

You can view the Quadrantid meteor shower in the constellation Boötes. From the northern hemisphere at around 50 degrees the radiant point of the meteor shower is above the horizon. This causes the number of visible meteors to increase. Additionally, the radiant point is circumpolar which means that it is always above the horizon and that the shower is active throughout the whole night. When you view the constellation from the southern hemisphere, the meteor shower will be visible later in the night (or earlier in the morning) and rises from the eastern horizon.

Astronomical Event #3: y-Ursae Minorid meteor shower

The y-Ursae Minorid meteor shower is visible from the constellation Ursa Minor. The constellation Ursa Minor is also known as the Little Bear and its brightest star in the North Pole Star, also known as Polaris. The constellation Ursa Minor is a valuable navigational tool used by travelers to find the Little Dipper and locate the North Star. This is because the North Star’s distance above the horizon is roughly equivalent to latitude.

The γ-Ursae Minorid meteor shower will be active from Friday the 15th of January to Monday the 25th of January. The peak rate of meteors falls on Tuesday the 19th of January. Just like the Quadrantid meteor shower, the y-Ursae Minor meteor shower is an annual meteor shower. This is because comets continuously eject material with each passage around the sun; therefore they replenish the shower meteoroids this way and cause an annual meteor shower.

You can view the y-Ursae Minor meteor shower from the constellation Ursa Minor. The constellation Ursa Minor is positioned in the northern sky which means that the constellation and the meteor shower are only visible to observers in the northern hemisphere. From the northern hemisphere the meteor shower is circumpolar and the meteor shower is active throughout the whole night. The best time to view a meteor shower is in the early morning hours, preferably on a dark, moonless night.

Astronomical Event #4: Conjunction of Mars and Uranus

On Friday the 22nd of January the conjunction of Mars and Uranus is visible in the night sky. Mars is the fourth planet from the Sun, whereas Uranus is the seventh planet from the Sun. A conjunction means that two or more celestial bodies pass each other. As mentioned in the astronomical events of December 2020, a conjunction is a phenomenon caused by the observer’s perspective. Therefore, while the two planets seem to be in close approach of each other from the perspective of Earth, they are in fact still quite far away from each other. During the conjunction of Mars and Uranus, Mars and Uranus will share the same right ascension, with Mars passing 1°43′ to the north of Uranus.

The conjunction of Mars and Uranus takes place on Friday the 22nd of January. The last time that the conjunction of Mars and Uranus was visible was on February 13th in 2019. So make sure that you won’t miss this time!  

You can view the conjunction of Mars and Uranus by looking at the constellation Aries.  Need help finding the constellation? Use the OSR Star Finder App! The two planets are however too widely separated to fit within the field of view of a telescope, but the conjunction is certainly visible through a pair of binoculars.

Enjoy exploring the night sky!

We hope to have given you enough reasons to go out exploring the night sky with the astronomical events of January 2021! There’s a lot to explore in January such as the Earth at Perihelion, the Quadrantid meteor shower, the y-Ursae Minorid meteor shower and of course the conjunction of Mars and Uranus.

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