Sky at a Glance December 29 – January 5

Spotting animal constellations in the eastern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2018 December 29 – 2019 January 5 ~by Curt Nason

This week, check out the eastern sky around 10 pm to hunting down four dogs, three cats, two bears, a hare, a snake and a crab. Oh, and a unicorn if you believe in them. Start looking toward the southeast where Orion is hunting. Below his feet is Lepus the Hare, staying immobile in hopes that Orion’s canine companions overlook him. Can you see the ears pointing to Rigel? Following Orion’s belt to the left brings you to sparkling Sirius at the heart of Canis Major the Big Dog, and it doesn’t take a great imagination to see a dog in this group of stars. Orion’s shoulders and head form an arrowhead that points toward bright Procyon, one of only a few visible stars in Canis Minor the Little Dog. Use your imagination to see Monoceros the Unicorn between the two dogs.

Now find the Big Dipper in the northeast. It forms the rear haunches and tail of Ursa Major the Big Bear, and from a rural area the legs and head of the bear can be seen easily. The two stars at the front of the bowl of the Dipper point northward to Polaris at the end of the handle of the Little Dipper, which is officially Ursa Minor the Little Bear. Below the handle of the Big Dipper are the two main stars and hounds of Canes Venatici the Hunting Dogs, seemingly nipping at the big bear’s butt.

Well below the bowl of the Big Dipper is Leo the Lion, recognized by the stellar backwards question mark of its chest and mane, with Regulus at its heart and a triangle forming its tail and hind legs. A faint triangle of stars between Leo and the Dipper is Leo Minor, the Little Lion. The third cat is Lynx, a faint line of stars running from Little Leo and past the front of Ursa Major. Between Regulus and Procyon is the head of Hydra the Water Snake, which will take much of the night to rise completely. And faint, crabby Cancer is above Hydra’s head. Stay warm and dry, and happy hunting.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:41 pm, giving 8 hours, 40 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:49 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:01 am and set at 4:48 pm, giving 8 hours, 47 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:56 pm in Saint John). Earth reaches perihelion, its closest position to the Sun, early Thursday morning. You’ll still need a coat.

The Moon is at third quarter on Saturday, and it passes near Venus on Tuesday and Jupiter on Thursday. If you can see the Moon in daylight late Tuesday morning, try spotting Venus about four degrees (less than a typical binocular width) to its left. Try the same challenge with Jupiter after sunrise on Thursday, looking the same distance to the right of the Moon. Mercury can still be seen in the morning, rising an hour before the Sun midweek. Mars is at its highest in the south at 5:40 pm, and Saturn is in conjunction behind the Sun on Wednesday. The Quadrantid meteor shower peaks late Thursday evening, emanating from Boötes off the handle of the Big Dipper. The name derives from an old constellation called Quadrans Muralis, the Mural Quadrant, and although the peak of the shower lasts only a few hours it occasionally gives a fine display of shooting stars.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre on January 5 at 7 pm. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *