January starts, the constellation Orion will be visible near the
eastern horizon as the skies get dark. This is a good opportunity
to look for M42, the Orion Nebula, with your naked eye.
magnitude +4, it’s pretty easy to see on a clear winter’s night.
The nebula will appear as a fuzzy area around the second star in the
sword of Orion.
you spot it with the naked eye, try locating it through a pair of
binoculars. You’ll be amazed at how much detail will stand
out. Now go one step further and view it through a telescope
(below). This sky gem just gets better and better.
also begins with Mars and Venus visible in the southwest at
sunset. If the skies are clear and you have access to a telescope
or binoculars, you should be able to see Neptune and Mars
simultaneously. The two are in conjunction on Jan. 1.
you stay up -- and can stand up -- after your New Year’s celebration,
you will be able to see Jupiter rise in the east around 1:15 a.m.
Saturn will rise at 6:02 in the morning, so drink a lot of coffee and
you might get a good view of it, too.
Quadrantids meteor shower will be visible on the morning of Jan.
4. The peak action is scheduled for 9 a.m. on the East Coast, but
you might see as many as 20 to 30 shooting stars per hour if you are up
an hour or two before dawn. On the West Coast and in Hawaii,
skywatchers might see as many as 120 to 130 per hour.
shooting stars will originate from the constellation Bootes. You
can find Bootes by looking for the Big Dipper and then following the
arc of its handle to the bright, red giant star Arcturus. It’s the
brightest star in Bootes.
my October article, I mentioned the Pleiades (M45).
It’s a tight cluster of stars you can use to check your vision.
There are six prominent stars that are readily visible with the naked
eye. Under very dark, good conditions, you might be able to spot
more. Johann Kepler reported 14 in the 17th century.
Here’s a close-up of Messier 45, the Pleiades.
is a fairly small constellation to the naked eye but it’s pretty big
through a telescope. When using my big scope, I can only get one
or two of the brighter stars in the frame at a time. So I learned
a new technique for this image. It’s a mosaic of 16 overlapping
tiles. Sounds pretty straight forward to do, but it took three
attempts to get the right spacing for the individual tiles. Each
tile is composed of 15 20-second exposures. So this a grand
total of 240 images, requiring about 80 minutes of exposure time.
might notice that the nebulosity around the star is blue where the
predominant color in most nebulae is red. That’s because M45 is a
reflection nebula. Clouds of interstellar dust reflect the light
from nearby stars, and blue light just happens to reflect better than
First Quarter: January 5
Full moon: January 12
Last Quarter: January 19
New moon: January 27
Lebing is a retired computer scientist with the U.S. Geological Survey
in Washington, D.C. He has visited Hatteras Island since the
mid-1970s. He and his wife, Karen, have owned property here for several
years and moved to their home in Waves full-time in 2013.
Astronomy is a subject that Gerry says he has always been interested in
and one that he pursues seriously -- he's built an small observatory
next to his house. You can send him questions about the night sky
through e-mail, [email protected]g.)