The new year begins as the old one ended, with the magnificent stars of winter striding boldly across the sky. Beautiful Orion wheels across the south, with the hunter’s three-star belt pointing toward Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky. Taurus, the bull, is above Orion during the early evening and leads it across the sky. And the twins of Gemini, to the left of Orion at nightfall, arc high above it later on.
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In the Sky This Month
January 16: Colorful Contrast
Two bright stars in this evening’s southern sky show that stars come in a rainbow of colors. The stars are Rigel and Betelgeuse, in Orion. Rigel is blue, Betelgeuse red. If you stare at Rigel for a few seconds, then switch to Betelgeuse, the contrast is dramatic.
January 17: Procyon
Procyon, the brightest star of Canis Minor, the little dog, is the eighth-brightest star in the night sky. On January nights it’s low in the east not long after nightfall. It’s well to the left or upper left of Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky.
January 18: Evening Mercury
The planet Mercury will lurk low in the evening sky over the next couple of weeks. It will lose a little bit of its brilliance each night, but it also will climb a little higher for the next few nights, making it a bit easier to find.
January 19: Messier 3
Messier 3, a family of half a million stars about 34,000 light-years away, is in the constellation Canes Venatici, the hunting dogs, and is easily visible through binoculars. It is in good view in the east-northeast by midnight and stands overhead at dawn.
January 20: Moon and Mars
Mars is in great view tonight. The planet is high in the south as night falls, above the Moon. It looks like a bright orange star. It will stand a little closer to the upper right of the Moon as they set in the wee hours of the morning.
January 21: More Moon and Mars
The Red Planet Mars stands to the upper right of the Moon as night falls, shining like a bright orange star. The Moon is at apogee today, which is its farthest point from Earth for its current orbit. Tides are less dramatic when the Moon is farther away.
January 22: Beehive Cluster
Cancer, the crab, is in the east this evening. It rises as darkness falls and is well up in the east by mid-evening. Its most interesting object is a cluster of stars known as the Beehive. To the unaided eye, it looks like a tiny smudge of light.
Last Jan. 6, 3:37 am
New Jan. 12, 11:00 pm
First Jan. 20, 3:02 pm
Full Jan. 28, 1:16 pm
Times are U.S. Central Time.
Perigee January 9
Apogee January 21
The full Moon of January is known as the Old Moon, Moon After Yule, or Wolf Moon.