Happy New Year!
We might not have the Milky Way overhead in summer and the nights are much shorter and you need to go out later, but we certainly have some great things to see in the southern skies. We get to see the three brightest stars in the night sky – starting with Sirius in the East then Canopus to the South and Rigel to the north. Then head anticlockwise, you come to, Aldebaran in Taurus, Capella in Auriga, Castor and Pollux in Gemini and Procyon in Canis Minor.
Another prominent and probably the most famous group of stars is ‘the Saucepan’ or Orion’s belt. Being so obvious and visible from most of the Earth even in areas with lights it is visible.
Today the three pearls are widely accepted as the waist of Orion the Hunter, a traditional constellation derived from ancient Greek mythology. From our perspective down under the bright blue star above the belt is Rigel which is Arabic for foot and the equally bright red star Betelgeuse, in Arbaic means armpit of the giant, a similar distance below the belt, marks his shoulder. In Australia we do see him upside down of course.
Moving more to the north we can see Taurus the Bull and the Pleiades or seven sisters. There are many stories about this prominent group of stars.
In Indigenous cultures across Australia, and in other cultures around the world, the Pleiades constellation is associated with the story of the Seven Sisters. Minyipuru Jukurrpa is the Martu version of this story.
The Minyipuru began their journey from Roebourne NW Western Asistralia as a group of sisters and their mothers. At various places along the way, they lost members of their party until eventually only seven sisters remained.
At Kalypa, the Minyipuru met a group of Jukurrpa men; it was the first time either group had seen members of the opposite sex. The men tried to grab the women, but the Minyipuru chased them off, hitting them with their digging sticks and leaving them where they fell.
At Pangkapini the sisters met Yurla, an old man who had followed them all the way from Roebourne.He grabbed one of the women, but her sisters tricked him and managed to rescue her. The sisters ultimately escaped into the sky, where they became the stars we know as the Seven Sisters..
The Star Dreaming story of the Seven Sisters is one of the most widely distributed ancient stories amongst Indigenous Australia. The songline for this story covers more than half the width of the continent, from deep in the Central Desert out to the west coast travelling through many different language groups and different sections of the narrative are recognised in different parts of the country.
The story relates to the journey of the seven sisters that make up the star cluster known as the Pleiades, in the constellation Taurus. Mythological stories of the Pleiades also cross many other cultures outside Australia – the story also appears in ancient Greek, Roman, Indian and Chinese mythology.
Observed from central Australia, the Pleiades star group rises above the horizon soon after sunset and keeps a low trajectory above the horizon. Perhaps for this reason this relatively small star cluster takes on extra importance, as it appears to launch from the earth’s surface and make its journey near the land.
The Moon this Month
(All times are in Australian Eastern Daylight Time)
- New Moon: 5:34 am January 3rd
- First Quarter: 5:12 am January 10th
- Full Moon: 10:49am January 18th
- Last quarter Moon: 00:42am January 26th
At 9am on January 2nd the Moon will be at Perigee which is the closest it gets to the Earth each month. This month will be a mere 358,033km away. On the 14th at 7pm the Moon will be at apogee its furthest point from Earth this month at 405,805km.
Planets in January
Finding and observing the planets of the Solar System in the night sky isn’t as hard as you might think. You just need to know where to look.
When a planet is in a particularly favourable position in the evening or morning sky, it will look like a bright ‘star’, the most obvious point of light visible to the naked eye.
The other thing about spotting the planets in the night sky is that they can also be found along the ecliptic, which is the imaginary line that the Sun appears to traverse in the sky over the course of a day and the Moon by night. Since the major planets of the Solar System orbit the Sun in about the same plane, the ecliptic also marks the path of the planets.
Mercury is now back in the evening sky. It is very low in the West about 30 minutes after sunset. It will reach its greatest elongation this month on January 7th when it sets about 1 hour after the Sun. It is best seen in first half of January and will be near Venus on the 1st and near Saturn on the 13th when Mercury will be slightly higher in the sky. The slender crescent of the Moon will be above Mercury on the 4th. Mercury will be lost from view as it passes between Earth and the Sun on the 23rd and moves to the morning sky late in the month.
Venus will also be between us and the Sun this month (inferior conjunction) on the 9th and will reappear in the morning sky by January 19th
If you can catch it before it sets early this month then you will see the planet as a very slender crescent. Being thin and low in altitude, this crescent is susceptible to the unstable atmosphere you have to look through for objects close to the horizon, so plan to catch it as early as you can after sunset.
As ever, be safe when hunting for Venus and make sure the Sun is below the horizon before looking for it.
Mars is visible in the eastern dawn sky in the constellation of Ophiuchus during the first two-thirds of the month. It then moves into Sagittarius, crossing the star clouds of the galactic centre. From southeast mainland Australia there will be an occultation of Mars by the Moon visible during the dawn of January 1. Canberra and Melbourne will see the disappearance at around 30 minutes before sunrise, where Sydney at this time will see a near miss as it will pass very close to the limb of the Moon. Adelaide will get the best view of any capital city seeing the disappearance and reappearance around 70 and 40 minutes respectively before sunrise. The lunar crescent will be quite thin and low in the east being only 2 days from New Moon. On the 30th, the planet will be close to the almost full moon.
Jupiter is still visible in the early western evening sky in Aquarius. Its low altitude this month does not lend itself to visual observation or imaging. On the 6th the slender crescent of the 4-day old Moon appears just above the planet
Saturn is low in the western evening sky during the first half of the month. On the 13th, the planet will be close to Mercury, visible just 30 minutes after sunset. After this Saturn becomes too close to the Sun for observation, reappearing in the morning twilight in late February.
Uranus is in Aries and is visible in the early north-western evening sky. The planet spends the month within half a degree of the 6th magnitude star 29 Arietis. Since both are of similar brightness, the best way to distinguish them is the one that shows a greenish disc is Uranus. The planet ends four months of retrograde motion on the 19th and then resumes drifting eastward against the stellar background.
Neptune is visible at the beginning of the year in the early western evening sky. Situated in Aquarius, the planet moves into Pisces in May and back to Aquarius in August.
Sky Views for January
The Quadrantids is a strong and consistent northern shower. They are difficult for southern observers, with the radiant below the early morning north-eastern horizon. If observing before dawn, you may glimpse an occasional long-pathed member on the morning of the 4th. The Quadrantids are active from January 1-5, with up to 40 meteors per hour at their peak. With New Moon on the 3rd, there will be no lunar interference.
The shower owes its name to the now-defunct constellation Quadrans Muralis. The constellation was left off a list of constellations drawn out by the International Astronomical Union (IAU) in 1922, but because the shower had already been named after Quadrans Muralis, its name was not changed. The Quadrantids is also sometimes called Bootids after the modern constellation, Boötes. The Quadrantids are associated with asteroid 2003 EH1. The asteroid takes about 5.5 years to orbit around the Sun. This is not the best viewing from the Southern Hemisphere as the radiant is below the horizon but you can see some long bright ones if you are our about 5am.
Binocular Challenges For This Month.
Grab your binoculars and if you have a star gazing app on your phone head outside and try for these objects in the evening sky.
M41 an open cluster also known as the Little Beehive Cluster is close the brightest star in the sky Sirius. It was known about as long as Aristotle in about 325 BC. It lies to the right and above Sirius,
Pleiades, Subaru of 7 Sisters are lower in the northern sky early in the evening and are a fun group of young stars to check out as well.
Looking east of the Pleiades you will see the V shape of the face of Taurus the bull with a nice bright red star called Aldebaran – look up at the 2 stars close together above that to find the Hyades cluster.
And finally check out the second star of the sword of Orion or handle of the Saucepan. This is the mighty Great Orion Nebula – with your binoculars you can see that the star is hazy and there are many more than just one star.
Lastly try using your smartphone on a steady surface to capture a photo of the ‘handle’ or sword stars and if you can get an exposure for about 10-30 secs you will capture some of the colour. A 25 – 30 second shot in a DSLR Camera will give you a lor more details as well.
In the Shop
Why not grab the 2022 Astronomy calendar which also includes the amazing photos and information on the planets, moon phases and skymaps for each month –$19.95 grab now for $17.50.
Want to get the best information for what is in the sky each month grab your copy of Astronomy 2022 Australia great value at $29.95.
Clear skies until next month!
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