5 astronomical events you don’t want to miss this winter

Aurora borealis over the Rocky Mountains. Richard Gottardo

Sure it’s cold, and we often have to battle the overcast sky in winter, but if you get some clear nights, here are a few jewels to catch this season.

Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina)

The year starts off with a comet in our night sky.

Comet C/2013 US10 (Catalina) was discovered on Oct. 31, 2013. It’s made its way around the sun and is now approaching Earth. It will make its closet flyby on Jan. 17 at a distance of 110 million km.

Comet C/2013 US10 (Comet Catalina) is seen here next to a globular cluster on Jan. 6, 2016. Courtesy Damian Peach

During the month of January, Catalina rises in the northeast around midnight. As the nights progress, you can find it rising higher earlier.

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The great thing is, January is a great time to catch it. While not quite a naked-eye object, it’s on the threshold, which makes it a great target for binoculars.

If you’d like to try finding the comet for yourself each night, you can use apps like Stellarium (iTunes or Android) or SkySafari  (iTunesor Android). Remember to search for the proper name, C/2013 US10.

The location of Comet Catalina on Jan. 7, 2016. Courtesy Stellarium


Along with Comet Catalina, Jupiter — king of the planets — is also rising in the east.

Jupiter is the second-brightest planet in our night sky, second only to Venus. The planet, the largest in our solar system (you can fit more than 1,000 Earths inside!), is easy to spot. At the beginning of January, it rises around 11 p.m. But by March, it’s around 8 p.m.

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Jupiter is also a fine binocular object: if you have a decent pair, say around 7 x 50, you’ll actually be able to see the planet’s moons. What’s fun about spotting the moons is that they will be in a different spot each night, so sometimes you can see four, others, three or even just two.

Venus and Saturn

If you’re up for an early commute, check out these two planets in the early morning sky on Jan. 9. The pair will be  less than a degree apart (width of pinky held at arm’s length), with Venus being the more brilliant of the two.

Venus and Saturn will be less than a degree apart in the early morning of Jan. 9. Courtesy of Stellarium

Though they are moving apart, you can still see them together in the early morning sky until around Jan. 15 (after that Venus is very low on the horizon).

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Saturn begins its rise into the night sky reaching an altitude that gets it ready for spring and summer viewing. And this makes another great binocular viewing, though it’s best seen in telescopes. So if you received a telescope for Christmas, this will be another fine target.

Meanwhile, Venus dips below the horizon by the end of the month. We won’t be able to see the bright planet until the end of June when it becomes visible at dawn.

International Space Station flyover

January provides an opportunity to catch the International Space Station (ISS) over your  house.

This composite of five images was taken on Sept. 6, 2015, as the International Space Station crossed (transited) the sun. Bill Ingalls/NASA via Getty Images

Every so often the ISS adjusts its orbit, which is why we don’t always get to see it.

In January, it will be visible across the country, but there’s a catch: you’ll have to get up pretty early to see it.

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The station will be visible somewhere between 5 a.m. and 7:30 a.m. If you want to see what time you can stumble out of bed to catch it (or perhaps before your morning commute), visit NASA’s Spot the Station page.

Northern lights

It’s been a great time to see the northern lights dancing over Canada and, though there’s no knowing too far ahead of time when we will get another show, Canada is the place to be during the winter.

WATCH: Photographer captures stunning images of northern lights

Seeing the northern lights, or aurora borealis, is dependent on solar activity. Often, coronal mass ejections — which tend to accompany solar flares — belch out particles that are taken along the solar wind towards Earth. Once those particles interact with our magnetic field, we get a colour display that lights up the night sky.

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If you’d like to keep track of when you might get a chance to see them, visit NOAA’s Space Weather Prediction Center. This page monitors geomagnetic activity. If the Kp is 3, high latitude skywatchers (Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, etc.) have a good chance to see them. If it’s 4 or 5, there’s a better chance; anything higher is best, of course.  You can always visit GlobalNews for updates as well.