Highlights for the January Night Sky
Brought to you by Bob Haskins of Waterville Estates
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.
Dusk and into the night:
Jupiter and Saturn are gone from the night-time sky this month, however Venus is with us in all her glory. Our sister planet shines brightly in the SW all month long and does not set until three hours after sunset. Remember, Venus is the brightest object in the night-time sky after the Moon.
- The Moon is full on the 10th of the month.
- Venus and the thin crescent Moon are very close together on the 27th.
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.
In the past three decades, scientists have found more than 4,000 exoplanets and the discoveries keep rolling in. Observations suggest that every star in our Milky Way galaxy hosts more than one planet on average.
Given a convergence of ground and space-based capability, artificial intelligence/machine learning research and other tools scientists are on the verge of identifying what is universally possible for life or perhaps even confirming the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence.
Factoid / Comment 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
- com (The evening sky map for the month)
- nasa.gov (sign up for alerts for the International Space Station passing overhead in your area)