Highlights for the January Night Sky
Brought to you by Bob Haskins @ Waterville Estates
Do your part and help preserve the dark skies that we are fortunate to have
in Waterville Estates. Please 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:
What a treat. Jupiter, Saturn, Mercury and Venus will all be lined up in a row for the first part of the month-don’t miss this. Also look to the SW. Around the 12th of the month Mercury and Saturn will be very close together; you might need binoculars for a better view of the duo.
On the 4th of the month Earth passed through perihelion; this is the time we are closest to the Sun for 2022.
The last of the month we see Venus leaving the night sky and showing up at dawn along with Mars. Look to the SE.
Full on the 17th
New on the 1st
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.
Henrietta Leavitt died one hundred years ago. The observational paper that she published in 1908 and elaborated on in 1912 has achieved the status of an astrophysical law. Her quiet life has been the subject of books and stage plays. It was Leavitt who discovered the yardstick for gauging distances across space, enabling the first realistic appreciation of the size of the Milky Way and soon afterward the breadth of the chasm separating our home galaxy from other island universes. She deserved a Noble prize for here contribution to science, but because she was a woman, she is not a household name today. Read G. Johnson’s book “Miss Leavitt’s Stars”
Factoid / Comment of the Month
- A star’s 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)