While there are plenty of dramatic space events in 2017 to look forward to, each month offers a moment that's worth staying up for. Below are just a handful of sky gazing opportunities for January 2017.
Quadrantids meteor shower (Jan. 3-4)
A Quadrantid meteor lights up the sky above New Mexico. (Photo: Mike Lewinski/flickr)
The Quadrantids, an annual meteor shower that can produce as many as 100 shooting stars an hour, will peak this month from Jan. 3-4. The shower is the result of Earth passing through a debris field created by a fractured comet some 500 years ago.
To see the Quadrantids, find a spot with little light pollution and look towards the north-northeast between the North Star and the Big Dipper. With the first quarter moon of the year setting shortly after midnight on Jan. 3, viewing conditions should be decent to take in the beauty of 2017's first light show.
SpaceX returns to satellite launches (Jan. 8)
After a September launch pad explosion that destroyed a Falcon 9 rocket and a $195 million commercial communications satellite, SpaceX is reportedly eyeing a return to space Jan 8. The company, which is proceeding with extreme caution, recently concluded a four-month investigation into the previous disaster. The culprit was a pressure vessel inside the Falcon 9 that failed after trapped oxygen was ignited under a combination of extreme pressure and friction. The company has fixed the issue and plans to launch a Falcon 9 carrying 10 mobile communication satellites later this week.
The Wolf Moon (Jan. 12)
January's full moon will reach its peak fullness at 5:34 a.m. on the morning of Jan. 12. This lunar event was known to the Algonquin Indians as the "wolf moon," so-named because of the hungry wolf packs that would howl uncontrollably at its rising.
Regulus and the moon (Jan. 14)
The star Regulus and the moon will have a close encounter on Jan. 14. (Photo: Nick Bramhall/flickr)
On Jan. 14, the waning gibbous moon will partner up with Regulus, one of the brightest stars in the night sky. The two bodies will appear dramatically close together, separated by only a degree.
Regulus, a blue-white star located about 79 light-years away, is part of the constellation Leo. The light it generates is actually created by four stars in the same system, with Regulus A shining the brightest and estimated to be at least 3.5 times the size of our own sun.
A celestial triangle (Jan. 31)
On Jan. 31, the moon, Venus, and Mars will align to form a triangle in the evening sky. (Photo: Pete G/flickr)
To finish out January, a beautiful triangle of heavenly bodies will form in the night sky on Jan. 31. After night falls, look to the southwestern sky to see the planet Venus and Mars align into a triangle with the crescent moon.