With new month of January upon us, people in the Northern Hemisphere will still be treated to some of the longest nights of the year as, even after the solstice, the Sun won't be moving North very much anytime soon. Basically, January is still pretty much a story of steady 15 hour nights, give or take a few minutes at most. So, with all of this night, what's there to see?
By nightfall in January the fall constellations are all very well-placed for early (emphasis, early!) evening viewing. First up, we will have one last chance to see the Summer Triangle, provided you have a good West horizon. Hurry, though, it will quickly disappear (at least in the West) for good by month's end. Moving onto more mainstream celestial landmarks for this time of year, the Great Square of Pegasus is rapidly sinking in the West and the Big Dipper is starting to climb in the Northeast. Starting at the Great Square, look at the double string of stars coming of third base as they constitute Andromeda. High in the North is ‘W’-shaped Cassiopeia, house-like Cepheus, and a twisted ‘V’ of stars, the mythological hero Perseus. Below Perseus is the bright Capella, alpha Auriga, and below his feet, the cloudy patch that is the Pleiades. In the early evening, the Southwest is a dark void populated by the dim constellations of Capricorn, Aquarius, Pisces, and Cetus, all 4 of which are to soon disappear. If you stay up a little later as in a couple of hours after nightfall (which is no chore this time of year), you'll see all the winter favorite like unmistakable Orion in the South, which also serves as a winter signpost to the stars. From Orion, follow a line from his belt down to blazing blue Sirius, alpha Canis Major. Following that line up will bring one to Aldebaran, alpha Taurus the bull. Imagining a line starting at bright blue Rigel (Orion's left foot) through red Betelgeuse (Orion's right shoulder) will bring you to Castor and Pollux, alpha and beta Gemini. Other winter favorites to look for include Canis Minor, Cancer, and even Leo if you wait into the night a little longer. Early birds? Well, getting up just before the Sun will bring a spring preview in the form of Virgo, Bootes, Corona, Hercules, Corvus, and even Vega just ahead of the rising Sun.
On the planet front, there is something to behold at any time of the night. For people who do not like to stay up, Mars will be visible low in the twilight Southwestern sky just after sunset. Want to see the Red Planet? Look for the reddish 'star,' it will be the first thing visible in that section of sky. For all of you Mercury fans, you'll be getting the start of an excellent evening appearance. Start looking low in the Western sky around the 30th. Don't mind staying up? Well, there's Jupiter, which is still up for most of the night. Look high in the sky come dark and that brightest 'star' is the planetary king. For the early birds, there's Saturn and Venus in the predawn sky. As for Saturn, it will be about a third of the way to zenith (overhead) in the Southeastern sky before dawn's first light. Even as the Sun starts to brighten the sky, it will be visible for quite some time and it will only get higher as the month goes along. In contrast, Venus, though in the same area of sky, will instead be sinking into the Sun's glare, making it imperative to catch the brightest of the planets in early January.
Hit the 'subscribe' button for automatic email updates when I write something new!
Want even more? Check out my personal website:
Bodzash Photography & Astronomy