Sky at a Glance 2021 January 30 – February 6

Photo showing the constellation Lepus the Hare located beneath Orion's feet in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2021 January 30 – 2021 February 6 ~by Curt Nason

With Groundhog Day coming this Tuesday it would be nice to talk about the groundhog constellation, but there is none. Technically, no rodents have been so honoured, although the second brightest star in Gemini is called Castor, which is the genus of beavers. However, some time ago the cute bunnies decided they didn’t want to be associated with rodents and called themselves lagomorphs. So, at the risk of being attacked by the killer rabbit in Arthurian legend, we will celebrate Groundhog Day by focusing on Lepus the Hare. And for some strange reason, I feel that I have written this before.

By 9 pm Orion stands high in the southern sky while Lepus cowers below his feet, hoping to avoid detection by Orion’s larger canine companion to the east. I see the constellation as three vertical pairs of stars, with the brightest pair in the middle and the widest to the right. With a reasonably dark sky you can see the bunny ears between the widest pair and Orion’s brightest star, Rigel. If you extend the middle pair down an equal distance a small telescope will reveal a fuzzy patch called M79. This globular cluster is unusual in that it is in our winter sky, whereas most of the globulars are seen among the summer constellations. M79 could be part of another galaxy that is interacting with the Milky Way.

If you draw a line from the top of the middle pair to the top of the widest pair and extend it a little more than half that distance, a telescope might pick up Hind’s Crimson Star, one of the reddest stars in the sky. Its brightness varies by a factor of 300 over 14 months, with the red colour being most pronounced at its dimmest.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:43 am and sunset will occur at 5:21 pm, giving 9 hours, 38 minutes of daylight (7:46 am and 5:28 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:34 am and set at 5:32 pm, giving 9 hours, 58 minutes of daylight (7:38 am and 5:39 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Thursday, rising after midnight and setting nearly an hour before noon. Mercury sets around 6:50 pm this weekend, but it is fading quickly and heading sunward over the week. Mars remains in the sky over the entire evening but it, too, is fading. With Venus moving sunward in the morning and Saturn a week past solar conjunction, the two will have a meet-up next weekend. Jupiter joins them the following week. This is not a great week for solar system observing; it might as well snow.

With astronomy meetings and outreach activities on hold, you can watch the local Sunday Night Astronomy Show at 8 pm and view archived shows.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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