Sky at a Glance Dec 30 – Jan 6

Photo showing the location of the constellation Orion in the southern winter sky.

This Week’s Sky at a Glance, Dec 30 – Jan 6 ~by Curt Nason

Before, or after, the flash of New Year’s Eve fireworks this weekend, take a look around the sky. As a new year begins, many of the brightest stars are at their best when you face south. Halfway up the sky is the slanted line of three stars that forms Orion’s Belt. Above it are the shoulders of the giant hunter, marked by orange Betelgeuse and Bellatrix. Below, blue-white Rigel and Saiph are parts Orion’s legs. The Belt points to the right at the V-shaped Hyades cluster star, anchored by orange Aldebaran, and the compact, eye-catching Pleiades cluster, which together form the face and shoulder of Taurus the Bull.

To the left of the Belt is the night sky’s brightest star, Sirius, in Canis Major, the larger of Orion’s two canine companions. Bellatrix and dim Meissa, marking Orion’s head, form an arrowhead with Betelgeuse at the tip, which points toward Procyon in two-star Canis Minor. Auriga and Gemini ride above Orion. Among these New Year’s Eve constellations are five of the ten brightest stars, with four more in the top 25. In addition, 2018 begins with the brightest Moon of the year above Orion’s head.

Rather than make a resolution that involves great sacrifice and likely won’t see February, why not start an astronomy project to learn the sky over the year. I recommend the RASC Explore the Universe program, which involves observing and describing or sketching objects using your unaided eyes, binoculars or a small telescope. The objects include constellations and bright stars, lunar features, solar system, deep sky, and double stars. By completing 55 of the 110 objects you could earn a certificate and a pin. For details, see or contact me.

This Week in the Solar System

Saturday’s sunrise in Moncton is at 8:01 am and sunset will occur at 4:42 pm, giving 8 hours, 41 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:50 pm in Saint John). Next Saturday the Sun will rise at 8:01 am and set at 4:49 pm, giving 8 hours, 48 minutes of daylight (8:03 am and 4:57 pm in Saint John). Earth reaches perihelion at 2:34 am on Wednesday, at a distance from the Sun of only 147 million kilometres and change. This is about 3% closer than it is in early July but, still, wear a warm coat outside.

The closest full Moon of 2018 falls on New Year’s Day, with perigee occurring four hours before the syzygy. This Saturday the Moon occults the bright star Aldebaran around 7:30 pm, with the star reappearing a little less than an hour later. On the morning of January 5 the Moon is near Leo’s lucida, Regulus. Mars closes in on Jupiter this week, leading to a close conjunction next weekend. Closer to the southeastern horizon, Mercury reaches its greatest elongation from the Sun on Monday. The short-lived Quadrantid meteor shower, radiating from off the handle of the Big Dipper between Boötes and Draco, peaks around sunset Wednesday but the low altitude and Moon phase will hamper our ability to see many.

The Saint John Astronomy Club meets on Saturday, January 6 at 7 pm in the Rockwood Park Interpretation Centre. All are welcome.

Questions? Contact Curt Nason.

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