Sky at a Glance January 26 – February 2

Photo showing location of the constellation Lepus (the hare) under the feet of Orion in the southern night sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, 2019 January 26 – February 2
~by Curt Nason

With Groundhog Day coming up next weekend 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. Wait a minute, what about…? Well, 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 the advent of Groundhog Day by focusing on Lepus the Hare.

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 7:48 am and sunset will occur at 5:15 pm, giving 9 hours, 27 minutes of daylight (7:51 am and 5:22 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 7:40 am and set at 5:25 pm, giving 9 hours, 45 minutes of daylight (7:43 am and 5:32 pm in Saint John).

The Moon is at third quarter on Sunday and it is bracketed by Venus and Jupiter on Thursday. By the end of the week the two brightest planets will be ten degrees apart, with Venus heading toward a rendezvous with Saturn in a few weeks. Mercury is in superior conjunction on Tuesday, moving into its best evening apparition for the year in late February. Mars resembles a first magnitude red star in the southwest during the evening.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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