December 29, 2017


Night Skies:
The Hunter, the Dog, and Other Night Sky Highlights for January 2018


By GERRY LEBING



This is the California Nebula. It’s about 1800 light years away.  Right now, it’s just about directly overhead.  The California Nebula has a visual magnitude of +5, but it is extremely difficult to spot with the naked eye.  I had to enhance the image by increasing the saturation of the color and brightness to make it easy to see the shape and structure of the object.

In January, the “Dog” follows the Hunter

Orion, the Hunter, will appear just after sunset on January 1.  About an hour and a half later, two bright stars will rise above the Eastern horizon, Procyon and Sirius - the Dog Star! 

Sirius is the brighter of the two  and further to the south. (You can find Sirius by following the line formed by Orion’s belt down towards the horizon.)  The name Sirius means “glowing” and it’s  the brightest star in the night skies . Its visual magnitude is -1.4! That means Jupiter, Venus and the moon are are the only objects brighter than Sirius in the night skies. Sirius is located in the constellation Canis Major (the Great Dog.) It’s about 8.7 light years away from us, making it the fifth closest star.

Procyon will rise just a little bit north of due east.  With a visual magnitude of  +.34, it’s the eighth brighest star in the night skies.  Procyon is located in the constellation Canis Minor, the Little Dog.  You might notice that Procyon rises a bit earlier than Sirius, the Dog Star. The name Procyon means “before the dog.”   Procyon is about 11.5 light years away.

Other things you can look for January 2018

Mercury will be visible in the southeast from the January 1 until the 19th.  Jupiter and Mars will be visible in the eastern pre-dawn skies.  Mars will start the month rising at 2:49 a.m. and Jupiter will follow at 3:01 a.m.   Jupiter and Mars will be in conjunction at 5:56 a.m. on January 7. 

Saturn will start the month rising at 6:26 a.m. The Sun rises at 7:11 a.m. and its light will probably obscure Saturn until it is visible on January 9. 

Neptune and Uranus will be in the evening skies for all of January. 

The Quadrantids Meteor shower peaks the night of the January 3.  You can expect as many as 120 meteors per hour.  The shower will appear to originate below the Big Dipper.  Best viewing will be after midnight, but you might see some activity earlier if the northern skies are clear.

Moon Phases:

1st Quarter is the 24th
 Full Moon is the 01st
 Last Quarter is the 8th
 New Moon is the 16th
Blue Moon (2nd Full Moon) is the 31st


(Gerry 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.)




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