It’s the start of a new year, 2023! While the first month of the new year will be almost a week old, the year will be starting off strong with a beautiful Wolf Full moon. Much like a belated Christmas present, the Wolf Full Moon will show itself on Friday, January 6th.
Why is it called the Wolf Full Moon? The answer goes back to the Native Americans hearing wild animals, specifically wolves, howling at this time of year. Though, why do wolves howl? They howl and make other vocalizations for various reasons, including defining territory, warding off rivals, and locating other pack members. A wolf’s howl can be carried up to ten miles. It’s a great GPS system when you’ve covered many miles and lost track of your family.
Studies show that wolves also howl to show affection. They can form special relationships with other pack members and display stress and anxiety when their “favorite” member is away or separated from them. Maybe they even know love. Wolves can also show sadness; they often howl to mourn the death of a pack member.
January 4th is a special day noted by scientists and astronomers. Did you know it is called a perihelion? That’s a term used for being at one’s closest point to the sun, whether it’s referring to a planet, asteroid, or comet. This time it refers to us – planet Earth! We will be closer to the Sun than we are all year! Our distance apart will be about 91.4 million miles that morning, while on an average day, we are separated by 93 million miles! And it will still be winter! Our seasons are not regulated by perihelion; they are controlled by the tilt of the Earth’s axis.
So, what else will you be able to see besides the sun and the moon during the month of January? Presently, about 45 minutes after sunset, you might spot Saturn above the horizon. Just above Saturn and to its left, you’ll notice the bright planet Jupiter; these two will be visible each evening. However, Saturn drops toward the horizon earlier and earlier. It disappears from sight as January goes on.
By mid-month, the planet Venus will make an appearance in the evenings. On January 23, we’ll see a pretty impressive sight – our thin crescent moon and two planets. Venus and Saturn will brush close to each other, less than a quarter of a degree apart, in the evening twilight. Their side-by-side close encounter on January 22 is called an “appulse.” Some of the faster-moving inner planets can come together every few months, while others meet up less frequently but stay together for longer periods of time.
We may have some rockets going up in January as well. Note, there’s a scheduled SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launch from Cape Canaveral on January 2 (launch window 9:55 am). There’s an additional SpaceX Falcon 9 leaving Kennedy Space Center on January 9 (launch window 7:00 pm). As usual, I’ll have to wait and see if they really happen! Weather and other issues could cause delays! That night’s launch would be especially neat to see!
But if you’re interested in a sure thing, there is an “Astronaut Encounter” program at Kennedy Space Center. You can go there to meet an astronaut on certain January days. It’s all included in your admission ticket. Imagine getting to ask questions or have a chat! Wouldn’t it be neat to have your photo taken beside an astronaut? At least ten astronauts are on January’s schedule.
On January 6-9th, for example, they’ll have former NASA astronaut Steven Smith, a veteran of four missions and seven spacewalks. He is a record holder. He holds the accomplishment of being second on the American and third on the World space walk duration record lists! On January 26-29th, they’ll have Barbara Morgan, the only woman astronaut of the month. She is from the NASA class of 1985 and was a backup for Christa McAuliffe for the Teacher in Space Program.
Finally, our first month of the New Year ends with a bright moonlit evening. On January 31st, the moon is 77% full. It’s well on its way to a Snow Full Moon! To be continued in February!
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