January Guide to the Bright Planets
Venus dominates in January, a fiery beacon at nightfall. At the end of the month (January 27 and 28), look for a beautiful crescent Moon–Venus pairing—plus, a Venus–Neptune conjunction! See Bob Berman’s January Sky Watch for viewing information.
Sky Watch January 2020
by Bob Berman, as featured in The Old Farmer’s Almanac
This will be an extraordinary year for planets—the best year of our lives. Some are calling it the “Year of the Planets.”
But 2020 will start rather quietly.
- In January, only Venus dominates. For 5 months, this brilliant evening star will be a fiery beacon at nightfall. It’s easy to find dazzling Venus. Just look toward the west/southwest about one hour after sunset.
- In 2020, Earth is closest to the Sun on the 5th of January. Read about what we astronomers call “perihelion.”
- Mars begins 2020 in Libra, visible before dawn at magnitude 2, its dimmest of the year, and quickly moves into Scorpius, passing above the star named after it, the famously orange Antares. They form a triangle with the crescent Moon on the 20th.
Spoiler alert: Our neighbor Mars will spend most of this year approaching planet Earth, reaching opposition in early October and soaring high and bright in the autumn skies!
- During the final week of January, also before dawn, Jupiter first appears low in the southeast. (Mars also rises before dawn and can be seen in the southeast.)
- Where’s Saturn? It’s not visible all of January. But you’ll see it slowly approach Jupiter over the rest of winter into early spring. By May, the two giants will be within 5 degrees of each other.
January 26, 27, 28: Beautiful Crescent Moon and Venus
On January 27 after sunset, the crescent Moon dangles below Venus in Aquarius and then stands to its left on the 28th.
- The 27th also brings a Venus and Neptune pairing—the closest planetary conjunction of the year (the two will be spaced only 1/12th of one degree apart). However, you would need to have a telescope to see this conjunction because Neptune is our most distant plant and very faint compared to Venus; Neptune will appear right below Venus.
- Sky gazers should also be able to spot Mercury on the 27th or 28th. The lit crescent Moon will be pointing to Mercury, the intermost planet. Right after the Sun goes down, look near the horizon.
Go to the Almanac rise/set calculator to find out when the Moon and planets rise and set in your sky.
Also, enjoy my take on the Top Sky Watch Events of 2020!