There's some good news and some not so good news for NASA as 2016 gets underway, but for backyard stargazers it promises to be a month to remember, with some regular and rare celestial events on the docket.  To get the skinny on what's happening this month out in space, Edgar B Herwick III from WGBH's Curiosity Desk sat down with Kelly Beatty, Senior Editor at Cambridge's own Sky & Telescope Magazine.

January 2 | The Earth And Sun Get A Little Closer
Despite the fact that we are smack in the dead of winter here in New England, the Earth will be closer to the Sun on January 2 at 6pm EST than at any other time in 2016. The 91,403,812 mile distance between the Sun and Earth at that moment comes in at a full 2 percent closer than the average distance between the two. So how is it that it's so darn cold around here? "We have seasons almost entirely because of Earth's tilt," explained Beatty. Right now, the northern hemisphere is tilted away from the sun. "That means the sunlight hits us more obliquely, it's not as strong, and the days are shorter," said Beatty. That lack of direct sunlight means it's winter time for us, and summer for our fiends in places like Australia and Argentina, which are in the southern hemisphere and currently tilted toward the sun. Take heart, June is only 6 months away.

January 3, 4 | Quadrantid Meteor Shower 
"One of the three best meteor showers of the year," according to Beatty. You're best bet for viewing this yearly celestial event is after sunset on January 3 until the sun rises on January 4. If you can find a dark spot, Beatty says you should be able to see upwards of a meteor a minute. "Meteor showers are great," he said. "These are particles that have been shed by a comet and every year the Earth passes through the comet's orbit at the same time." Meteor showers are named for the constellation in the sky from which the meteors appear to radiate. In this case, that constellation is Quadrans Muralis. Haven't heard of it before? It's OK. It was created in 1795 and has been obsolete for many years. For reference, look near the handle of the Big Dipper. That's where the action will be.

January 9 | Venus and Saturn Dance
Venus and Saturn are set to do a "dance" in the early morning hours on January 9, said Beatty. They will both be bright in the sky, and appear incredibly close, less than 1/2 degree apart. Of course that's just how it looks from our vantage point. In reality they're still, as usual, about 800 million miles apart. 

Beginning January 20 | The Full (Planetary) Monty
It turns out Venus and Saturn's dance is just a prelude. It's a rarity, but for a few days in the predawn sky, you'll be able to see all five "naked-eye" planets (planets that can be seen without a telescope) at the same time. Mercury, Venus, Mars, Saturn and Jupiter will all be visible in an arc of sorts over New England. The last time this happened was way back in 2005. And thanks to the fact that the sun rises later in the morning in the winter, "predawn" isn't quite as daunting as it sounds. According to Beatty, 6am is the perfect time to experience this "Full Planetary Monty."

Space Notes