This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2023 January 14 – January 21
Bright stars and eye-catching asterisms such as Orion’s Belt, the Big Dipper and the Pleaides were obvious targets to immortalize earthly creatures and activities. Rather than Orion being a hunter and the giant son of Poseidon, to the Egyptians he was Osiris, the god of light, riding up the Nile on a boat. In parts of China he was Commander Tsan, protecting farmers from barbarians seeking to steal their winter supplies. Brazilian tribes saw the figure as a turtle, or as the body of a giant caiman with its tail and head extending to constellations above and below Orion. The Inuit saw Orion’s belt and sword as three hunters pulling a sledge and chasing a bear, represented by the red star Betelgeuse, into the sky.
The Big Dipper forms the back half of the constellation Ursa Major, the Great Bear. In Britain it is The Plough, ancient Germans saw it as seven plowing oxen, and for others it was obviously a cart. Local First Nations people saw the bowl of the Big Dipper as a bear and the handle stars, along with other stars in the constellation Boötes, as hunters. The hunters, who are named for birds, chase the bear from spring to autumn until only the three closest hunters remain above the horizon, at which time the bear is slain by Robin. The bear’s blood stains Robin’s chest and the leaves of the trees.
The Pleiades represent seven daughters of Atlas and Pleione and they mark the shoulder of Taurus the Bull. The Maori of New Zealand imagined them as the prow of their founder’s canoe, with the upper half of Orion forming the stern. Cherokee legend in the southeastern United States tells of seven boys who, in response to being punished for not working, performed a Feather Dance and ascended to the sky. To the Ojibwe Orion, along with the stars Procyon and Aldebaran, was the Wintermaker; and the Pleiades was the Hole-in-the-Sky through which the spirits of the dead joined the star people.
This Week in the Solar System
Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 7:58 am and sunset will occur at 4:58 pm, giving 9 hours of daylight (8:00 am and 5:06 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:53 am and set at 5:08 pm, giving 9 hours, 15 minutes of daylight (7:55 am and 5:15 pm in Saint John).
The Moon is at third quarter this Saturday, and the new moon next Saturday occurs at the same time it reaches perigee. Venus puts the moves on Saturn over the week, reducing their separation by a binocular width and climaxing in a very close conjunction next weekend. Jupiter is now setting before 11 pm and on Friday, although we won’t notice any difference, it reaches its closet distance from the Sun in its 12-year orbit. Telescope users might see Jupiter’s Red Spot around 6 pm Sunday, 7:30 Tuesday, and 9 on Wednesday. Mars inches slowly eastward from the Pleiades and Hyades star clusters, but it still dominates the scene. Mercury rises about an hour before sunrise this weekend, extending that by 25 minutes next weekend.
On Sunday evening at 8 pm, tune in to the Sunday Night Astronomy Show via the Facebook page or YouTube channel of Astronomy by the Bay.
Questions? Contact Curt Nason