Highlights for the January Night Sky
By Bob Haskins
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have
in Waterville Estates. Turn off all unnecessary outdoor lighting
Go outside tonight and discover the night sky
The Planets: “Evenings on the Ecliptic” The Sun and the planets all follow an imaginary path in the sky called the ecliptic.
Mars is a very lonely planet this month, it is the only planet visible in the night sky this month and to top it off it is not as bright as it was this past summer. Look halfway up in the SW.
Venus: I was out just before sunrise the other morning and I could not believe how bright Venus looked. It took my breath away. Look halfway up in the SE just before the Sun comes up..
Jupiter: Look for Jupiter below Venus at the beginning of the month and toward the end of the month they will be side by side in the SE.
Moon: There will be a total eclipse of the moon on the night of 20th. For the third time in less than a year the moon will be lost in the Earth’s shadow.
Stars and Constellations
The winter constellations have arrived and this month we will focus on the constellation Orion,“the hunter” (refer to attached diagram). Look southeast and about halfway up in the nighttime sky for three equally bright stars all aligned in a row – this is Orion’s belt. Now look to the upper left of the belt and you will see a bright reddish star, this is Betelgeuse, which is pronounced “beetle juice”. This translates as the armpit of the giant.
Betelgeuse is one of the largest stars known to us and if it were our sun its diameter would extend beyond the orbit of Mars. It is a super-giant and nearing the end of its life. It will soon explode as a super nova and seed our milky way galaxy with elements that may someday be part of a future planet orbiting some sun.
Look to the lower right of the belt at the bright whitest star, this is Rigel which is pronounced “rye – jell”. This star is 50X bigger than our sun. Now look below and to the left of Orion and that really bright star is Sirius the “dog star”. Sirius is the brightest star in the nighttime sky and is part of the constellation Canis Major or the big dog. If you imagine the constellation as a stick figure it actually looks like a dog.
NASA’s Parker Space Probe is now closer to the Sun than any other spacecraft in history. It reached it’s closest approach “perihelion”, last November. At this distance the Sun’s disk appears to be 6 times bigger than it does on Earth. Also the probe will experience temperatures reaching a sizzling 2000 degrees.
Parker’s prime mission is to investigate the origin of the solar wind. Parker will trace the solar wind back to its source and find out how it escapes the Sun’s gravity and magnetic field.
Factoid of the Month
- A stars color tells us a lot about its temperature. Betelgeuse in Orion is reddish and is cooler compared to Rigel which is a white / bluish color. Our own star the Sun is yellowish which means it is hotter than Betelgeuse but cooler than Rigel.
- In the 3rd century BC, Eratosthenes of ancient Greece correctly calculated the size of the Earth and Aristarchus stated that the Sun must be at the center of things.
- When Galileo first saw the moons orbiting Jupiter it solidified the Copernican Revolution. It was the first time anyone had seen an object orbiting a star or planet.
Astronomy Websites to explore
- heavens-above.com (satellites that are passing overhead)
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station passing overhead in your area)