With new month of January upon us, people in Cleveland and the rest of 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 four 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, for all of you Mercury fans, you’ll be getting the best morning appearance of the year right off the bat as the closest planet from the Sun reaches greatest Western elongation (and thus the farthest point from the Sun as seen from Earth) on the ninth. This, combined with a still somewhat steep ecliptic, make for a high-flying, in relative terms, planet.
Moving into the night, Jupiter will pop out of the twilight just about due south, which means ideal observing conditions at the start of the night as the planet is at its highest. For the next pair of planets, one has to wait until the predawn hours as Virgo brings Saturn, which is then followed by Venus, which will be blazing away at about -4.5 magnitude. In all, four of five classical planets will be visible this month, which is not bad at all.
For more astro news:
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- See Jupiter and Uranus tonight
- Jennifer Aniston compared to Crab Nebula
- Celebrate the new year with the Dog Star
- Featured sight for the week of 1/2: Jupiter and Uranus at their closest
- Proof positive people will always believe stupid things
- Partial Solar eclipse
- Naked eye astronomy for January
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