A giant ring of bright stars dominates the southern half of the sky on winter nights. It includes the brightest star in all the night sky, plus the leading lights of several well-known constellations. And tonight, it’s easier to pick out than usual because it’s bracketed by two brilliant objects: the full Moon and the planet Jupiter. Jupiter outshines all the other planets and stars in the sky for most of the night, so you can’t miss it.
The hub of the great Winter Circle is a little south of the line that connects Jupiter and the Moon: Betelgeuse, the orange shoulder of Orion, the hunter.
Brilliant Sirius, the brightest star in the night sky, is almost directly below Betelgeuse as darkness falls, twinkling fiercely in the southeast. And the other bright stars of the circle extend about the same distance from Betelgeuse, with Capella at the top. They include the twins of Gemini, the eye of Taurus, and the foot of Orion. And they shine in different colors — white, yellow, orange, and blue.
The full Moon actually helps the Winter Circle stand out a bit, because its light overpowers the glow of the fainter stars. Only the really bright ones stand out — like those of the multi-colored Winter Circle.
And by the way, the Moon is officially “full” at 10:38 p.m. Central Standard Time. It’s known as the Wolf Moon, Old Moon, or Moon After Yule — or tonight, the Moon That Follows the Winter Circle. More about the Moon tomorrow.
Script by Damond Benningfield, Copyright 2012
For more skywatching tips, astronomy news, and much more, read StarDate magazine.