January starts dark - with only eight and a half hours of brightness, the days at the beginning of the month are short and the nights long enough for observing the winter starry sky. This changes as the month progresses, as the day length increases by one hour towards the end of the month.
But the long January nights give you the opportunity to see all the planets and the constellations of winter. Our English-language Sky Guide for January 2022 provides detailed information on what these are and when you can see what in the sky. We have summarised the highlights for you here.
Highlights of the winter constellations
The winter constellation par excellence is undoubtedly Orion. It sparkles in the southeastern sky in the evening. To the left above its three belt stars, a delicate orange dot of light is visible to the naked eye: Betelgeuse. The brightness of this red giant - a dying star - keeps changing.
Other than that, of course, all the winter constellations now show themselves in their splendour: Big Dog, Little Dog, Carriageman, Gemini and Taurus. The latter, with its seven conspicuously bright stars, is at least as interesting as Orion: it is the Pleiades, a sparkling cluster of more than 3000 stars that has fascinated people for thousands of years. By the way, the brightest star in Taurus is Aldebaran - popularly known as the Eye of Taurus. It is one of the six stars of the winter hexagon and the fifteenth brightest star in the sky.
Speaking of the winter hexagon, Sirius in the Great Dog is another remarkable star of the hexagon. This brightest fixed star visible from Earth is actually a double star system - some astronomers even suspect a triple system.
The other four corners are formed by the right foot star Orions, Rigel, Prokyon in the small dog, Kastor and Pollux in Gemini and Capella in Fuhrmann. In Fuhrmann, by the way, you can already discover open clusters of young stars and beautiful nebulae such as Flaming Star or Tadpole Nebula with the help of astro-binoculars.
Speaking of nebulae: Orion, the hunter of the heavens, also has a remarkable nebula that you can see with the naked eye on clear nights and under ideal conditions. The Orion Nebula, 1500 light-years away, below the belt stars in Orion's sword neck, is one of several star-emerging regions in Orion.
Planets practice pairing up
The new year gets off to a flying start. In the evening and night sky, all the planets of our solar system pass over our heads. Mercury, Saturn and Jupiter are lined up one after the other in the southwest like on a string of pearls in the evening twilight. Then Neptune and Uranus appear - but only for experienced observers. And at dawn, Mars appears on the horizon in the southeast, joined by a radiant Venus in the middle of the month.
When it gets dark in the evening around 5.15 pm, small Mercury is low in the west and - directly above it - large Jupiter. Between the two, a pale Saturn peels out of the dusk a few minutes later. Be quick, though: Mercury says goodbye again shortly after half past five, Saturn after 6 pm. In addition, Mercury is incredibly fast and can only be seen in the evening sky until 13 January. After that, Mercury's visibility ends for the time being: on 23 January, the innermost planet of our solar system passes between Earth and the Sun.
When Jupiter also leaves the evening sky at around 9 p.m., it will remain dark planet-wise until the early hours of the morning. With a telescope, you can still find Neptune from half past six - just two handbreadths to the left of Jupiter. To discover Uranus, a pair of fast binoculars is enough - with a lot of luck, if the nights are clear and you are far away from artificial light, you can even spot it with the naked eye.
When the morning dawns around 7.00 am, Mars enters the celestial stage. At the beginning of the month it is still quite pale and inconspicuous low in the south-eastern sky. This changes in the course of the month: Then, from half past six o'clock, he is high enough not to be overlooked - and has a radiant companion at his side. Venus changes from evening to morning star in the first half of January, and from mid-January it can already be seen as a brightly shining point of light in the south-eastern sky at around half past seven. At the end of January, it can already be seen at around 6.00 a.m. on the left above Mars.
Shooting stars on the northeast horizon
January also holds shooting stars in store for "wishers": The Quadrantids are active between 1 and 10 January, preferably in the second half of the night. They reach their maximum on the night of 3 to 4 January, but even after that, some shooting stars can be expected if the sky is clear and moonless. However, the radiant, i.e. the apparent origin of the shooting stars in the sky, is only just above the horizon below the drawbar of the Big Dipper.