Here's the latest Night Sky column by the Argus' astronomy correspondent Jonathan Powell:


Archaeologists have discovered ‘calendar’ rock carvings in North America which date back to between 1250 and 1274 when the canyon in which they were found, was home to the Ancestral Pueblo.

These indigenous people left an extensive variety of ‘rock art’, but these findings show just how advanced the civilization was, with the panels of the ‘calendar' denoting astronomical observations and the commemorating of special days, such as solstices and equinoxes.

2024: NASA – A Step Closer to Lunar Return

During the latter part of 2024, NASA hopes its delayed Artemis II mission will finally launch, sending a crew of four astronauts to make a circuit of the Moon.

The warm-up mission is the final jaunt before NASA hopefully places astronauts back on the Moon’s surface in 2025.

South Wales Argus: The NASA moon rocket stands ready at sunrise on Pad 39B before the Artemis 1 mission to orbit the moon at the Kennedy Space Center, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson).The NASA moon rocket stands ready at sunrise on Pad 39B before the Artemis 1 mission to orbit the moon at the Kennedy Space Center, Monday, Aug. 29, 2022, in Cape Canaveral, Fla. (AP Photo/Brynn Anderson).

Artemis III plans to follow its predecessor Apollo 17 which in December 1972, was the last craft to set down and see humans walk on the Moon.

2024: Comet 12/P Pons-Brook

For a brief time in the latter part of 2023, Comet Nishimura, (above), gave stargazers a target in the night sky.

Discovered by astronomer Hideo Nishimura of Kakegawa, Japan, the comet offered the best observing opportunity during the autumn, with its closest approach to the Earth occurring during mid-September.

This year, whilst there is always the potential for the unexpected celestial visitor, there are two known comets that could potentially offer a better prospect for those who missed out on Comet Nishimura.

The first is 12/P Pons-Brooks. However, I think a brief explanation is in order with regard to the numbering and lettering system associated with different comets, of which there is an original and current method.

12/P Pons-Brook was discovered by French astronomer Jean-Louis Pons, (1761-1813) in 1812, later sighted in 1883 by American astronomer, William Robert Brooks, (1844-1921). These two sightings confirmed that the comet was a periodic comet, (a comet that orbits the Sun), which affords the tag ‘P’.

The ‘12’ numbering denotes the last two numbers of the year of the comet’s discovery, with the surnames of both persons involved tagged on the end.

12/P Pons-Brook has a periodic orbit of 71 years not dissimilar to that of Halley’s Comet.

Whereas the comet was discovered by Pons and Brook, history suggests that earlier sightings may have made, perhaps as far back as 1385 or even earlier.

In April 2024, the comet will once again be in our region of space with its closest approach to the Sun occurring on Sunday, April 21.

At the start of 2024, the comet is the constellation of Cygnus, the Swan, travelling through Lacerta, The Lizard in February, then Andromeda in March, before passing through Pisces and then into Aries during April.

2024: C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS)

The second comet of note is C/2023 A3 (Tsuchinshan-ATLAS).

The ‘C’ denotes that this is a non-periodic comet, discovered in 2023, with ‘A3’ referring to the month of discovery. ‘A’ means that the comet was discovered to the first half of January, (‘B’ would relate to the second half of January), with the ‘3’ denoting that it was the third comet discovered in that specific period.

The discoverers of the comet were a team at the Mountain (Zijin Shin or Tsuchinshan) Observatory (found whilst sifting through images taken of the night sky), and The Asteroid Terrestrial-Impact Alert System, (ATLAS), telescope in South Africa.

As of March 2023, the comet was sat between the orbits of Saturn and Jupiter with the expectation that by autumn 2024, it will be well-placed for us here on Earth.

Comets are notoriously difficult to predict in terms of brightness and how they will appear in our skies. We should adopt a cautionary stance at this point.

Earth at Perihelion

During the opening week of 2024 the Earth reaches perihelion, when it will be at its closest point to the Sun during its year-long journey around the nearest star.

We will be about three million miles closer to the Sun than we are during aphelion, furthest point from the Sun, which occurs in July.


Jupiter dominates the evening sky, making for easy spotting with the naked eye.

Currently positioned to the south in the constellation of Aries, Jupiter will be on view until around 2am before it sets in the west.

South Wales Argus: Jupiter visible in the night sky - PAJupiter visible in the night sky - PA

Whilst a disc can just be made out in binoculars, a small telescope should offer a good view of what appears to be a slightly oval-looking disc, as Jupiter ‘bulges’ somewhat at the equator.

Look for ‘band-like’ features in Jupiter’s atmosphere. If you are able to follow the planet over a series of nights, note the ‘points of light’ that appear roughly in a line, fanning out from Jupiter.

These are the four inner moons, Io, Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto.

On the evening of Thursday, January 18, the Moon will be close by.

Saturn is positioned to the lower right of Jupiter in the constellation of Aquarius.

Situated more to the south-west than Jupiter, the planet is significantly dimmer than the brighter Jupiter, some 25 times fainter in fact which given its position on the horizon, may make it tricky to spot with the naked eye, but recoverable with binoculars or a small telescope.

As a guide to trying to spot Saturn, a crescent Moon will appear just to the left of the planet on the evening of Sunday, January 14.

Whereas Jupiter dominates the evening sky, Venus commands the morning sky, positioned to the south-east in the constellation of Scorpius.

At the start of January Venus rises around three hours before dawn but by the end of the month, that will be reduced to under two hours.

Mars is also in the constellation of Scorpius, but its low position in the sky due to its closeness to the Sun, plus its dim magnitude, makes it virtually lost in the twilight.

South Wales Argus: Skywatch.Skywatch.

On the evening of Monday, January 8, watch for a wonderful pairing of Venus and a crescent Moon in the south-east.

On Tuesday, January 9, Venus and the crescent Moon are joined by Mercury.

The Moon will be positioned both between and below Mercury to the left, and Venus to the right.

This is the best chance to spot Mercury during January, sitting in the constellation of Ophiuchus, The Serpent Bearer, low in the south-east.

Mercury is on view for under an hour before being lost in the glare of the morning twilight.

January’s Full Moon

The first full Moon of the year occurs on Thursday, January 25. According to folklore, during the cold January nights across Europe and America, villages and small settlements would hear the howl of wolves in the darkness, gaining January’s full Moon the tag of ‘Wolf Moon’.

Interestingly, the average howl from a wolf can last up to seven seconds, with the combined chorus of howls from a pack of wolves lasting up to two minutes.

Other names attributed to the January Full Moon include ‘Frost Exploding Moon’, ‘Hard Moon’ and ‘Spirit Moon’.

In Celtic folklore, January’s full Moon is known as the ‘Quiet Moon’. In Anglo-Saxon culture it was called and rather aptly, ‘Moon after Yule’

Beginner’s Corner

As a help to beginners to find their way around the night sky, use the Moon during November to try and locate some bright stars on view.

On Thursday, January 4, the Moon is positioned to the north of Spica, the brightest star in Virgo.

On Monday, January 8, the Moon is positioned to the north of Antares, the brightest star in Scorpius.

On Sunday, January 21, the Moon is positioned to the north of Aldebaran, the brightest star in the constellation of Taurus.

On Wednesday, January 24, the Moon is positioned to the south of Pollux, the brightest star in the constellation of Gemini.

On Saturday, January 27, the Moon is positioned to the north of Regulus, the brightest star in Leo.

Out and About

Society Meetings

  • Barry Astronomical Society – Monday, January 8 – 7pm. An evening whereby BAS members are invited to bring along their various observing equipment. Barry Community Centre, Cemetery Road, Barry, CF62 8BP.
  • Bridgend Astronomical Society – Wednesday, January 17 – 7pm. ‘The Interstellar Medium in the Andromeda Galaxy’ – Gayathri Eknath. Bridgend Tennis, Squash, and Bowls Club, Halo Rec Centre, Angel Street, CF31 4AH.
  • Cardiff Astronomical Society – Thursday, January 4 – 7.30pm. ‘White Dwarf Pulsars’ – Dr Ingrid Pelisoli. Cardiff University, Queen’s Buildings, The Parade, Cardiff, CF24 3AA.
  • Heads of the Valleys Astronomical Society – Wednesday, January 24th – 7pm. ‘Moons of the Solar System’ – Dave Thomas, (HOVAS). Learning Action Centre, 20 James Street, Ebbw Vale, NP23 6JG

Online Talks

  • ‘Wonders of the Universe’ – Paul Dearden – Monday, January 8 – 7pm-8pm. The talk is free to the public and to reserve your spot, go online to

South Wales Argus: Jonathan Powell, South Wales Argus astronomy writerJonathan Powell, South Wales Argus astronomy writer

Moon Phases

  • Third Quarter: January 4;
  • New Moon: January 11;
  • First Quarter: January 18;
  • Full Moon: January 25.

Sunrise/Sunset Times

  • Start of January: Sun rises at 8.18am. Sets at 4.12pm.
  • End of January: Sun rises at 7.52am. Sets at 4.58pm.