Sky at a Glance 2020 January 25 – February 1

Photo showing the constellation Monoceros sandwiched between Orion’s dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2020 January 25 – February 1
~by Curt Nason

Monoceros is a constellation that is easy to locate, sandwiched between Orion’s dogs Canis Major and Canis Minor, but it is not easy to see. From urban areas its dim stars are as elusive as the unicorn they depict. It was one of eight new constellations created on a globe by the Dutch cartographer Petrus Plancius around 1612. Of those eight, only Monoceros and Camelopardalis are recognized as official constellations today. Monoceros is situated within the winter Milky Way, which is apparent in rural skies.

Despite being a dim constellation, Monoceros is home to some favourite targets of astrophotographers, in particular the beautiful Rosette Nebula. Another is the combination of the Cone Nebula, Christmas Tree Cluster and the Fox Fur Nebula. Check the Internet for their stunning images. Monoceros has one Messier object within its boundary, the large open cluster M50, otherwise known as the Heart-Shaped Cluster. It can be seen in binoculars about 40% of the distance from Sirius to Procyon. Three other open clusters on the Messier list are found near Monoceros but they lie officially within other constellations. They are the close pair of M46 and M47 in Puppis, and M48 in Hydra.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:49 am and sunset will occur at 5:13 pm, giving 9 hours, 24 minutes of daylight (7:52 am and 5:20 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:42 am and set at 5:23 pm, giving 9 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (7:45 am and 5:30 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is new on Friday, January 24, and it is at first quarter on February 1. On Monday and Tuesday it makes an eye-catching pairing below and then to the left of Venus. Also on Monday, just after twilight, a telescope or steadily-held binoculars might reveal Neptune very close to the lower right of Venus. Mercury sets around 6:30 pm midweek, an hour and a half before Venus. In the morning sky, Mars hangs out to the left of Antares in the southeast, while Jupiter makes its presence known a hand span to the lower left of Mars. Saturn rises in twilight about 40 minutes before sunrise.

RASC NB members are offering public observing at the Moncton High School observatory on January 24 from 6:30 to 8 pm; and at the Mactaquac Park office, across the road from the park entrance, from 7 to 9 pm on Saturday, January 25. The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on February 1 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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