The January night sky

©  Patrick McManaman / Unsplash

Winter is a good time to look at the stars.

Winter is a good time to look at the stars. The early darkness means we don’t have to stay up late and the sky is darker in winter than in summer. We also have some of the best constellations visible.

If you go out at about 10pm you will see Orion high in the South. The top left red star is Betelgeuse, a red giant star so large that if it was where our Sun is we would be inside Betelgeuse! The bottom right star is brilliant blue white Rigel, the colour contrast to Betelgeuse is striking. Between we have the three stars of Orion’s Belt and “hanging” from the belt you can just see the cloudy mass which is the Orion Nebula. This is a stellar birthplace, we know of over a thousand hot spots inside the nebula which are stars forming out of the gas.

Orion acts as a sign post in the sky. If you follow the line of the belt up to the right you come to the constellation of Taurus and its brightest star Aldebaran. There is a loose cluster of stars around Aldebaran called the Hyades, they look like a V. If you follow the line from Orion’s belt further through Taurus you reach the beautiful star cluster of the Pleiades. Also known as Seven Sisters, how many can you see? I can only see six.

Following the belt down to the left you come to stunning Sirius. It is the brightest star in the sky and because of it being so low in the sky you can often see it twinkling many different colours. Sirius is only so bright because it is so close to us. It is only 8 light years away. In comparison Rigel is 860 light years.

Some way above Sirius is Procyon. On a really dark clear night the Milky Way can be seen running between them and upwards past Orion and Taurus. Sirius is in the constellation of Canis Major (the Big Dog) and Procyon is in Canis Minor (the Little Dog), Orion in mythology is said to be a hunter and these are his hunting dogs.

Take a line from Rigel through Betelgeuse and you come to the constellation of Gemini the Twins. You will see its two brightest stars Castor and below it Pollux.