The red planet’s very well placed

Mars is the best placed planet this month. A gibbous Moon comes a-calling on the evening of 30 January, when it lies between Mars and the Pleiades open cluster (M45), with the Hyades open cluster and bright Aldebaran lying just to the south. All AN graphics by Greg Smye-Rumsby.

Mars, still relatively fresh from last month’s brilliant opposition, remains the main planetary interest. The red planet is an unmistakable sight as it rides relatively high in Taurus; it can be seen high in the east as night-fall. Although it fades from magnitude –1.2 to –0.3 and shrinks in apparent diameter from 14.5″ to 10.7″, it’s on-show all month until past midnight. 

A 80mm (~three-inch) telescope can show Mars’ most prominent dusky marking, the wedge- or V-shaped Syrtis Major, which is prominent on the Mars disc for the first half of the month. 

A waxing gibbous Moon pays a welcome visit to the red planet on the evening of 3 and 30 January, on the latter date it’s placed between Mars and the marvellous Pleiades open cluster.