While there are plenty of dramatic space events in 2018 to look forward to, each month offers a moment that's worth staying up for. Below are just a handful of skygazing opportunities for January 2018.
The super Wolf Moon (Jan. 1)
January's first full moon will reach its peak fullness at 9:24 p.m. on the evening of Jan. 1. This lunar event, which also qualifies as a supermoon due to its close proximity to Earth, 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.
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 month's first full moon still casting glow, viewing conditions will unfortunately be less than ideal to take in the beauty of 2017's first light show. Nonetheless, keep your eyes peeled for at least a few fireballs to scorch the night sky.
Regulus and the moon (Jan. 4)
The star Regulus and the moon will have a close encounter on Jan. 4. (Photo: Nick Bramhall/flickr)
On Jan. 4, 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.
SpaceX to make history with Falcon Heavy (Jan.)
After months of delays, January appears to be the month where SpaceX's Falcon Heavy will finally make its historic first launch. Earlier this month, the private space company began erecting the 229-foot-tall rocket on launch pad 39A at the Kennedy Space Center. It's dummy cargo? No less than Elon Musk's own cherry-red Tesla Roadster.
The Falcon Heavy is composed of two refurbished Falcon 9 boosters and one newly-designed central core stage. In all, 27 engines will fire, giving the rocket the ability to carry up to 119,000 pounds of cargo into low Earth orbit. If successful, and even Elon Musk has his doubts as to how the first launch will go, the Falcon Heavy will become the most powerful rocket ever built.
"There’s a real good chance that it does not make it to orbit," Musk said this summer. "I hope it gets far enough away from the launch pad that it does not cause pad damage – I would consider that a win."
Like the road to failure that SpaceX embraced while engineering its successful Falcon 9 rocket, Musk expects this launch to influence all future missions.
"Falcon Heavy’s going to be a great vehicle," he added, "there just isn’t a lot you can test on the ground."
The super 'Blue' blood moon (Jan. 31)
Those living on the West Coast of the U.S. and in Hawaii will be able to view a total lunar eclipse on Jan. 31. (Photo: Nick Bramhall/Flickr)
On the evening of Jan. 31, skywatchers will not only be treated to the second full supermoon of the month (known as a "blue moon"), but over the Western U.S., they'll also witness a full lunar eclipse.
The lunar disc will begin passing through our planet's shadow at approximately 3:48 a.m. PST. It will achieve full totality, a phenomenon that appears to turn the moon red, at 4:52 a.m. PST and fully conclude at 7:11 a.m. PST. Those on the East Coast will only see a partial eclipse, as the moon will set around 7:21 a.m. EST.
Editor's note: This story was originally published in January 2017 and has been updated with more recent information.